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Women, Ecology and Survival in India 

Vandana Shiva 

kali for women 


Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Survival in India 
was first published in 1988 

in India by 

N 84 Panchshila Park 
New Delhi 110 017 

in the U.K. by 
Zed Books Ltd. 

57, Caledonian Road 
London N1 9BU 

©Vandana Shiva, 1988 

All rights reserved 

Cover design: Chandralekha 
ISBN 81-85107-07-6 

Phototypeset by Wordtronic, 1 1 1/56, Nehru Place, New Delhi, 
and printed at Indraprastha Press, (CBT), 

Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi 1 10 002 






Development as a new project of western patriarchy- Maldevelopment as the 
death of the feminine principle -Two kinds of growth, two kinds of pro- 
ductivity - Two kinds of poverty 


Modern science as patriarchy's project - The violence of reductionism - Profits, 
reductionism and violence - Two kinds of facts - Two kinds of rationality - 
Modern science and ecological crises - The natural-unnatural divide 


Nature as the feminine principle - Nature and women as producers of life - 
Gender ideology vs. the recovery of the feminine principle 


Aranyani: the forest as the feminine principle -Colonialism and the evolution of 
masculinist forestry - The women of 'Chipko - Afforestation projects and 
reductionism -'Social' forestry and the , miracle ' tree - The approaching tragedy 
of the commons - The colonial heritage: commons as 'wasteland' - Saving the 
soil, protecting the commons -Breeding 'super-trees' - Recovering diversity, 
recovering the commons 


Green revolution a western paradigm - The displacement of women from food 
production -Miracle seeds: breeding out the feminine principle -The myth of the 
miracle seeds - 7he myth of high yields and food self-sufficiency — From the 
green revolution to biotechnology - The death of soils -Soil-building strategies 
of traditional agriculture -Green revolution: a recipe for desertification 
-Diseases of micronutrient deficiency and toxicity -Waterlogged and saline 
deserts - Groundwater mining and the creation of dry deserts - Respecting the 
rights of the soil - Pesticides: poisoning the web of life - The farce of improved 
varieties -Fostering pests with pesticides - Non-violent pest control learning 
from nature, women and peasants - The violence of the white revolution 
-Hybridisation as genetic violence - Fragmentation of nature: integration of 


The disappearing source - Dams as violence to the river -Drilling deep and 
draining dry - Women: the water experts 



To my late mother 
for her legacy of the courage 
to think and act differently 


This book is a gift to those who made it possible 

- the many women, peasants and tribals of India who have been my teachers in 
thinking ecologically 

- Rajni Kothari, who made such learing possible by creating the context for 
intellectual freedom 

- Jayanto Bandyopadhyay, my husband, who has also been my partner in 

- Rajuji, my father, who first mothered me and now mothers my son 

- Kartikeya, my son, for his generous love which allows me to do What 1 do. 



In the shift from the modernist, competitive and 'catching up' orientation of the 
first generation of feminists to a much more holistic, nurturant and non-dualistic 
perspective that is beginning to emerge from recent thinking on feminism, this 
book may prove to be an important contribution. It also commends itself for 
choosing an ecological stance that distances itself from western conservationists 
for whom the 'wretched of the earth’, fast multiplying and making demands on 
the resource pool of the planet, are the source of environmental degradation, 
who they would like to exclude from access to natural resources which are, in 
fact, being far more rapaciously depleted by what the author calls the modern 
'development project' than by the poor and the deprived. The author throw's her 
weight behind a far more inclusive conception-of-ecology in which the struggles 
of the marginalised and hitherto excluded segments -excluded largely because of 
the development project - against inequity, exploitation and repression find 
resonance and support. She also warns us against the dangers of co-optation 
posed by the more recent appropriation of the environmental vocabulary and 
metaphors by governments and elites, and by international agencies like the 
World Bank who, in the name of working with environmental NGOs, are 
succeeding in both depoliticising voices of protest and struggle and making 
environmental protection into a surrogate for the same old development project 
on which corporate interests and technocrats are so keen. 

I shall let the book speak for itself. It is cogently written, is empirically 
sensitive, draws on a lot of relevant literature and is marked by a good deal of 
passion and conviction. There are places where I do not necessarily agree with 
the author, e.g., with her often explicit and often implied equivalence between 
women and nature, as if all women are by definition conservationist, 
life-enhancing and equity-seeking. Although she is aware of the problem, she is 
not sufficiently discriminating between urban - and urbanised -women devoured 
by consumerist ethics, and rural and tribal women whose identity with both 
nature and the human community is so organic and authentic. This is 
understandable, given the author's general mandate of locating women's 
problems in an ecological paradigm although at times it is more in the form of 
concessions to outdated jargon. The saving feature is that, unlike the older 
vintage of feminists imploring the State to treat them on a footing of 'equality' 
with men, Vandana Shiva is interested in deeper meanings of femininity and 


Prakriti and in asserting these as far more humane and natural than the dominant 
'scientific' paradigm which is essentially macho in its conception. 

Let me draw the larger implications of Vandana Shiva's effort to organically 
relate the concerns of ecology with the feminine principle. By doing so she has 
already broadened the arenas of both the environmental and the feminist 
movements and given a composite intellectual meaning to both. At the level of 
praxis, at least, but also in respect of theory, 1 should like to see this search for a 
more comprehensive framework continue to include other major grounds for 
restructuring the human enterprise that are presently under way (as well as other 
new grounds that may be in the offing). Thus, if the feminine principle asserts 
both a holistic perspective and an inclusive agenda of concerns based on its 
considerable respect for diversity - both in turn being principles of nature - it 
must of necessity take into both its logic and its agenda of concerns the whole 
issue of ethnicity, of the struggles of minorities and marginalised communities 
for their rights of inclusion as autonomous and self-governing entities in the 
larger political community. Again, as in the case of the struggles for preserving 
the environment, both the victims of and the prime movers against destructive 
forces happen to be women, so in the ethnic struggles the worst sufferers are 
women, and it is women who are struggling to pick up the pieces and rebuild 
shattered communities, not allowing either the mere anger of incensed young 
men or the cynical manipulation and trickery of those bent on dividing 
communities to cow them down. 

It is not women alone who are involved in these struggles; that will be a 
gross exaggeration and exaggerating a process only distorts it (in both 
conceptualising the process and acting it out), it is rather that both as victims of 
modern technological development and the scientific paradigm from which such 
development derives its raison d’etre, and as possible deliverers (and liberators) 
from it, women are more central than men - at any rate such women as still 
cherish and nurture the feminine principle (not all of them do). They also seem 
better equipped for opening up new civic spaces as part of both preserving and 
rebuilding communities. In sum, femininity and ecology on the one hand and 
femininity and ethnicity on the other are natural allies, mutually synergizing and 
often found in practice to be synonymous. They are all part of the larger struggle 
for endogeneity in a world threatened by the homogenising thrust of modernity. 
The holism implied in the feminine principle must be distinguished from the 
universalism of the modern scientific era. The former respects and nurtures 


diversity; the latter undermines it under its homogenising and centralising thrust 
and, in the end, destroys diversity. 

1 have for some time now been working on the phenomenon of ethnicity in a 
somewhat comprehensive way and 1 have been accused by a lot of conceptual 
purists for stretching the meaning of this phenomenon beyond its natural bounds 
(partly by traditional anthropologists and others working on specific populations 
like the tribals, but more by that breed of nationalists who consider any assertion 
of diversity and plurality as being, by definition, inimical to the integrity of the 
nation state). 1 want to add to the dismay of these detractors of mine by saying 
that 1 consider both the feminine gender and the feminine principle as essential 
ingredients of the upsurge of ethnicity in the contemporary historical process. 1 
see the awakening of gender, ecology and ethnicity as close allies that share a lot 
of common ground and could, if those who participate in this awakening stood 
together and were not separately co-opted (which is what the dominant system is 
currently bent upon doing), make a difference to the prospects of humanity by 
arresting the continuing colonisation of nature and of ethnic diversity and, in the 
process, saving the feminine-principle of holism, based on diversity, dignity of 
all beings and a shared sense of community, from eclipse. 

That brings me to yet another as yet unresolved issue in the theoretical basis 
of the feminist movement. It is the issue of class. It is clear by now that the issue 
of women as victims of modern technology and development cannot be 'reduced' 
to that of class. Those who believe that if it cannot be so reduced, it is not a real 
issue but a result of some version of 'false consciousness' with no historical 
relevance, are clearly prisoners of a rather dated theory of revolution and are 
unable to fathom a far more complex historical situation that was not anticipated 
by the founders of 'scientific socialism'. But having said that, 1 do want to hasten 
to say that feminists ought indeed to be involved in the economic struggles of the 
oppressed poor, the growing ranks of the impoverished (to no small extent 
because of the development project) and the still further growing ranks of 
pauperised, marginalised and dispensable peoples for whom the State and the 
modem economy have no use. The issue of class is central to the historical 
process as are the issues of femininity, ecology and ethnicity. Such a large 
spectrum of womanhood generally (including in the agricultural sector), and in 
particular in the wake of the new national and international division of labour, is 
exploited by the capitalist mode of production. But it is not just a question of 
women. It is a much larger issue of a new technological basis of economic and 


cultural exploitation which is crying for a new spirit of democratic resistance 
against what is undoubtedly a considerably changed (transnationalized, 
corporate, computerised, militarized and televised) model of capitalist growth 
and integration. The feminist movement will continue to be castigated as petit 
bourgeois in its thrust unless it comes out of its present undimensional derailing 
and makes common cause with the struggles of the world proletariat and the 
proletarianised lower classes of all societies. It is particularly qualified to do so 
given its natural penchant for empathy, compassion, solidarity and nurturance, 
particularly towards suffering humanity and the victims of history. Scientific 
solidarity does not seem to have taken us very far. Feminist solidarity may. 

Finally, there is the whole constituency of those who stand at the frontier of 
people's struggles but who, too, need new inputs, new insights and new 
self-definitions. This is the constituency of human rights which in India spans a 
large spectrum of civil liberties, democratic rights and peoples rights (meaning 
the rights of specific nationalities, minorities and peripheral communities). 
Many of those who are engaged in the 'women's movement' do identify with 
struggles of civil liberties and democratic rights, and not just on behalf of 
women's rights (witness the considerable expansion of concerns of a journal like 
Manushi). But there are so many who shy away from these struggles which they 
consider to be 'too political', or because they think they are male -dominated, or 
because they do not wish to be 'submerged' in vaguer terrains and preserve their 
autonomous character. For the first lot 1 have not much to say; these are women 
who have set up their own maths and think that taking on too dissenting and 
political a stance will make them vulnerable. I have nothing to say because at 
bottom they want to use State patronage and the patronage of international 
agencies to better the status of women. Being part of the system, the ruling 
paradigm of science and development and the emerging elite, they have no other 
choice. I do not doubt their bona fides, I only find their perspectives too limited 
and I have little doubt that they are either already coopted by the State and the 
capitalist market or soon will be. As for 'male domination', the charge is valid 
and can only be changed if the perspectives change on both sides. It is the third 
type with whom 1 have a problem. I shall now turn to it and with that end this 

Any approach to the 'liberation' of any segment of society that is based on a 
polarised view of social reality (men versus women, majority versus minority, 
Centre versus State) is for me at once unreal and apolitical - and indirectly a 


tribute to the attempts of the dominant structure to create a dualist situation and 
to push the I other' out and dispense with it. Second, it is in grave danger of being 
marginalised or coopted - if you stand aloof and unidimensional and fearful of 
contamination, you are bound to be either marginalised or coopted. But third, 
and for me more serious, those who take so exclusivist a view of any movement 
suffer from a high degree of arrogance and insensitivity. For they refuse to see 
that the struggle for femininity is a struggle for a certain basic principle of 
perceiving life, a philosophy of being. It is a principle and a philosophy that can 
serve not just women but all human beings. Femininity, by definition, cannot 
and should not be a limiting value but an expanding one - holistic, eclectic, 
trans-specific and encompassing diverse stirrings. It is only by bringing the as 
yet disparate perceptions and struggles of gender, ecology, ethnicity, class and 
human rights in a shared conception of restructuring the human enterprise that 
there s a future for the feminist movement. Not otherwise. 

1 am glad to introduce this book as an effort in this direction. 


Cen tre for the Study of Developing Societies 
Delhi, April 1988 



'Let them come and see men and women and children who know how to live, 
whose joy of life has not yet been killed by those who claimed to teach other 
nations bow to live. ' 

- Chinua Achebe 1 

The Age of Enlightenment, and the theory of progress to which it gave rise, was 
centred on the sacredness of two categories: modern scientific knowledge and 
economic development. Somewhere along the way, the unbridled pursuit of 
progress, guided by science and development, began to destroy life without any 
assessment of how fast and how much of the diversity of life on this planet is 
disappearing. The act of living and of celebrating and conserving life In all its 
diversity - in people and in nature - seems to have been sacrificed to progress, 
and the sanctity of life been substituted by the sanctity of science and 

Throughout the world, a new questioning is growing, rooted in the 
experience of those for whom the spread of what was called 'enlightenment' has 
been the spread of darkness, of the extinction of life and life-enhancing 
processes. A new awareness is growing that is questioning the sanctity of 
science and development and revealing that these are not universal categories of 
progress, but the special projects of modern western patriarchy. This book has 
grown out of my involvement with women’s struggles for survival in India over 
the last decade. It is informed both by the suffering and insights of those who 
struggle to sustain and conserve life, and, whose struggles question the meaning 
of a progress, a science, a development which destroys life and threatens 

The death of nature is central to this threat to survival. The earth is rapidly 
dying: her forests are dying, her soils are dying, her waters are dying, her air is 
dying. Tropical forests, the creators of the world's climate, the cradle of the 
world's vegetational wealth, are being bull-dozed, burnt, ruined or submerged. 
In 1950, just over 100 million hectares of forests had been cleared — by 1975, 
this figure had more than doubled. During 1950-75, at least 120 million hectares 


of tropical forests were destroyed in South and Southeast Asia alone; by the end 
of the century, another 270 init lion could be eliminated. In Central America and 
Amazonia, cattle ranching for beef production is claiming at least 2.5 million 
hectares of forests each year; in India 1.3 million hectares of forests are lost 
every year to commercial plantation crops, river valley projects, mining projects 
and so on. Each year, 12 million hectares of forests are being eliminated from the 
face of the earth. At current rates of destruction, by the year 2050 all tropical 
forests will have disappeared, and with tropical forests, will disappear the 
diversity of life they support. 

Upto 50 per cent of all living things - at least five million species - are 
estimated to live in tropical forests. A typical four square-mile patch of 
rainforest contains up to 1,500 species of flowering plants, 750 species of trees, 
125 of mammals, 400 of birds, 100 of reptiles, 60 of amphibians and 150 of 
butterflies. The unparalleled diversity of species within tropical forests means 
relatively few individuals of each; any forest clearance thus disrupts their life 
cycles and threatens them with rapid extinction. Current estimates suggest that 
we are losing one species of life a-day from the 5-10 mi llion species believed to 
exist. If present trends continue, we can expect an annual rate of loss as high as 
50,000 species by the year 2000. In India alone, there exist 7,000 species of plant 
life not found anywhere else in the world; the destruction of her natural forests 
implies the disappearance of this rich diversity of animal and plant life. 

Forests are the matrix of rivers and water sources, and their destruction in 
tropical regions amounts to the dessication and desertification of land. Every 
year 12 million hectares of land deteriorate into deserts and are unable to support 
vegetation or produce food. Sometimes land is laid waste through 
desertification, at other times through ill-conceived land use which destroys the 
fertility of fragile tropical soils. Desertification in the Sahel in Africa has already 
killed millions of people and animals. Globally, some 456 million people today 
are starving or malnourished because of the desertification of croplands. Most 
agricultural lands cropped intensively with green revolution techniques are 
either water logged or dessicated deserts. Nearly 7 million hectares of land in 
India brought under irrigation have already gone out of production due to severe 
salinity, and an additional 6 million hectares have been seriously affected by 
water-logging. Green revolution agriculture has decreased genetic diversity and 
increased the vulnerability of crops to failure through lowering resistance to 
drought and pests. 


With the destruction of forests, water and land, we are losing our 
life-support systems. This destruction is taking place in the name of 
'development' and progress, but there must be something seriously wrong with a 
concept of progress that threatens survival itself The violence to nature, which 
seems intrinsic to the dominant development model, is also associated with 
violence to women who depend on nature for drawing sustenance for them- 
selves, their families, their societies. This violence against nature and women is 
built into the very mode of perceiving both, and forms the basis of the current 
development paradigm. This book is an attempt to articulate how rural Indian 
women, who are still embedded in nature, experience and perceive ecological 
destruction and its causes, and how they have conceived and initiated processes 
to arrest the destruction of nature and begin its regeneration. From the diverse 
and specific grounds of the experience of ecological destruction arises a 
common identification of its causes in the developmental process and the view 
of nature with which it is legitimised. This book focuses on science and 
development as patriarchal projects not as a denial of other sources of patriarchy, 
such as religion, but because they are thought to be class, culture and gender 

Seen from the experiences of Third World women, the modes of thinking 
and action that pass for science and development, respectively, are not universal 
and humanly inclusive, as they are made out to be; modem science and 
development are projects of male, western origin, both historically and 
ideologically. They are the latest and most brutal expression of a patriarchal 
ideology which is threatening to annihilate nature and the entire human species. 
The rise of a patriarchal science of nature took place in Europe during the 
fifteenth and seventeenth centuries as the scientific revolution. During the same 
period, the closely related industrial revolution laid the foundations of a 
patriarchal mode of economic development in industrial capitalism. 
Contemporary science and development conserve the ideological roots and 
biases of the scientific and industrial revolutions even as they unfold into new 
areas of activity and new domains of subjugation. 

The scientific revolution in Europe transformed nature from terra mater into 
a machine and a source of raw material; with this transformation it removed all 
ethical and cognitive constraints against its violation and exploitation. The 
industrial revolution converted economics from the prudent management of 
resources for sustenance and basic needs satisfaction into a process of 


commodity production for profit maximisation. Industrialism created a limitless 
appetite for resource exploitation, and modern science provided the ethical and 
cognitive license to make such exploitation possible, acceptable- and-desirable. 
The new relationship of man's domination and mastery over nature was thus also 
associated with new patterns of domination and mastery over women, and their 
exclusion from participation as partners in both science and development. 

Contemporary development activity in the Third World superimposes the 
scientific and economic paradigms created by western, gender-based ideology 
on communities in other cultures. Ecological destruction and the 
marginalisation of women, we know now, have been the inevitable results of 
most development programmes and projects based on such paradigms; they 
violate the integrity of one and destroy the productivity of the other. Women, as 
victims of the violence of patriarchal forms of development, have risen against it 
to protect nature and preserve their survival and sustenance. Indian women have 
been in the forefront of ecological struggles to conserve forests, land and water. 
They have challenged the western concept of nature as an object of exploitation 
and have protected her as Prakriti, the living force that supports life. They have 
challenged the western concept of economics production of profits and capital 
accumulation with their own concept of economics as production of sustenance 
and needs satisfaction. A science that does not respect nature's needs and a 
development that does not respect people's needs inevitably threaten survival. In 
their fight to survive the onslaughts of both, women have begun a struggle that 
challenges the most fundamental categories of western patriarchy - its concepts 
of nature and women, and of science and development. Their ecological struggle 
in India is aimed simultaneously at liberating nature from ceaseless exploitation 
and themselves from limitless marginalisation. They are creating a feminist 
ideology that transcends gender and a political practice that is humanly 
inclusive; they are challenging patriarchy’s ideological claim to universalism 
not with another universalising tendency, but with diversity; and they are 
challenging the dominant concept of power as violence with the alternative 
concept of non-violence as power. 

The everyday struggles of women for the protection of nature take place in 
the cognitive and ethical context of the categories of the ancient Indian 
world-view in which nature is Prakriti, a living and creative process, the 
feminine principle from which all life arises. Women's ecology movements, as 
the preservation and recovery of the feminine principle, arise from a non-gender 


based ideology of liberation, different both from the gender-based ideology of 
patriarchy which underlies the process of ecological destruction and women's 
subjugation, and the gender-base responses which have, until recently, been 
characteristic of the west. 

Inspired by women's struggles for the protection of nature as a condition for 
human survival, this book goes beyond a statement of women as special victims 
of the environmental crisis, it attempts to capture and reconstruct those insights 
and visions that Indian women provide in their struggles for survival, which 
perceive development and science from outside the categories of modern 
western patriarchy. These oppositional categories are simultaneously ecological 
and feminist: they allow the possibility of survival by exposing the parochial 
basis of science and development and by showing how ecological destruction 
and the marginalisation of women are not inevitable, economically or 

Chapter I traces the historical and conceptual roots of development as a 
project of gender ideology, and analyses how the particular economic 
assumptions of western patriarchy, aimed exclusively at profits, have subjugated 
the more humane assumptions of economics as the provision of sustenance, to 
make for a crisis of poverty rooted in ecological devastation. 

Chapter 2 addresses itself to the myth of the neutrality and universality of 
modern science. It traces its beginnings in the scientific revolution which, on the 
one hand, subj ugated nature, and on the other, excluded women as knowers and 
experts. The structure and methodology of modern- science are reductionist; this 
chapter shows how reductionism as a patriarchal mode of knowing is necessarily 
violent to nature and women. 

Chapter 3 goes on to describe the world that Indian women inhabit, both 
philosophically as a world-view, and in their daily practice, in the production 
and renewal of life. For the women who are leading ecological struggles, the 
nature they protect is the living Prakriti. It is the awareness of nature as a living 
force, and of themselves as partners with her in the production of sustenance that 
guides their ecological struggles. These movements, while dependent on 
women's insights, are not based on a gender ideology, and make for an 
oppositional category, conceptually. 

Chapter 4 traces the beginning of the destruction of forests and women's 
expertise in forestry with the colonisation of India's forests. It shows how what is 
called 'scientific forestry' is actually a narrow, reductionist view of forestry that 


has evolved from the western bias for maximisation of profits. Chipko, the 
famous movement of the peasant women of Garhwal is viewed here as a 
response to this paradigm. The destruction of forest ecosystems and the 
displacement of women who generate survival through the forest are structurally 
linked to this reductionist paradigm of forestry. Responses to the severe 
repercussions of deforestation that emerge from centres of capitalist patriarchy 
deepen both the ecological and survival crises. These attempts are contrasted 
with women's initiatives at forest protection and regeneration which are 
sustainable and just, recovering both the diversity of forests as well as sharing 
the wealth that they produce. 

Chapter 5 is an analysis of the food crisis as rooted in masculinist 
agricultural science and development which have destroyed nature's capital and 
have excluded women as experts and producers of food. The violence inherent in 
the green revolution for food-crops and the white revolution for dairying, is 
located and linked to shifts in the perception of food as a commodity, produced 
and exchanged for profit. 

Chapter 6 is about the water crisis which is threatening the survival of plant, 
animal and human life on a cataclysmic scale. It is related to land and water use 
for profit, such that limited water resources are over-exploited or diverted from 
survival needs to the imperative of profit maximisation. The reductionis view of 
water and water management is contrasted with the holistic knowledge women 
have for conserving and using it for survival. 

The concluding chapter recapitulates the rationale behind the dominant 
science and technology and development paradigm that is responsible for the 
current economic and ecological crises, and posits the reclaiming of the 
feminine principle as a non-violent, non- gendered and humanly inclusive 

Women of the Third World have conserved those categories of thought and 
action which make survival possible, and which therefore make justice and 
peace possible. Ecology movements, women's movements and peace 
movements across the world can draw inspiration from these categories as forces 
of opposition and challenge to the dominant categories of western patriarchy 
which rule the world today in the name of development and progress, even while 
they destroy nature and threaten the life of entire cultures and communities. It is 
to focus on and pay tribute to the leadership of millions of unknown women in 


India, struggling for a life that is simultaneously peaceful and just, that this book 
has been written. 


1. Development, Ecology and Women 

Development as a new project of western patriarchy 

'Development' was to have been a post-colonial project, a choice for accepting a 
model of progress in which the entire world remade itself on the model of the 
colonising modem west, without having to undergo the subjugation and 
exploitation that colonialism entailed. The assumption was that western style 
progress was possible for all. Development, as the improved well-being of all, 
was thus equated with the westernisation of economic categories - of needs, of 
Productivity, of growth. Concepts and categories about economic development 
and natural resource utilisation that had emerged in the specific context of 
industrialisation and capitalist growth in a centre of colonial power, were raised 
to the level of universal assumptions and applicability in the entirely different 
context of basic needs satisfaction for the people of the newly independent 
Third World countries. Yet, as Rosa Luxemberg has pointed out, early industrial 
development in western Europe necessitated the permanent occupation of the 
colonies by the colonial powers and the destruction of the local 'natural econ- 
omy'. 'According to her, colonialism is a constant necessary condition for 
capitalist growth: without colonies, capital accumulation would grind to a halt. 
'Development' as capital accumulation and the commercialisation of the 
economy for the generation of 'surplus' and profits thus involved the 
reproduction not merely-of a particular form of creation of wealth, but also of 
the associated creation of poverty and dispossession. A replication of economic 
development based on commercialisation of resource use for commodity 
production in the newly independent countries created the internal colonies . 2 
Development was thus reduced to a continuation of the process of colonisation; 
it became an extension of the project of wealth creation in modern western 
patriarchy's economic vision, which was based on the exploitation or exclusion 
of women (of the west and non-west), on the exploitation and degradation of 


nature, and on the exploitation and erosion of other cultures. 'Development' 
could not but entail destruction for women, nature and subjugated cultures, 
which is why, throughout the Third World, women, peasants and tribals are 
struggling for liberation from ‘development’ just as they earlier struggled for 
liberation from colonisation. 

The UN Decade for Women was based on the assumption that the 
improvement of women's economic position would automatically flow from an 
expansion and diffusion of the development process. Yet, by the end of the 
Decade, it was becoming clear that development itself was the problem. 
Insufficient and inadequate , ‘participation’ in 'development' was not the cause 
for women's increasing under-development; it was rather, their enforced but 
asymmetric participation in it, by which they bore the costs but were excluded 
from the benefits, that was responsible. Development exclusivity and 
dispossession aggravated and deepened the colonial processes of ecological 
degradation and the loss of political control over nature's sustenance base. 
Economic growth was a new colonialism, draining resources away from those 
who needed them most. The discontinuity lay in the fact that it was now new 
national elites, not colonial powers, that masterminded the exploitation on 
grounds of 'national interest' and growing GNPs, and it was accomplished with 
more powerful technologies of appropriation and destruction. 

Ester Boserup 3 has documented how women's impoverishment increased 
during colonial rule; those rulers who had spent a few centuries in subjugating 
and crippling their own women into de-skilled, de- intellectualised appendages, 
disfavoured the women of the colonies on matters of access to land, technology 
and employment. The economic and political processes of colonial 
under- development bore the clear mark of modern western patriarchy, and 
while large numbers of women and men were impoverished by these processes, 
women tended to lose more. The privatisation of land for revenue generation 
displaced women more critically, eroding their traditional land use rights. The 
expansion of cash crops undermined food production, and women were often 
left with meagre resources to feed and care for children, the aged and the infirm, 
when men migrated or were conscripted into forced labour by the colonisers. As 
a collective document by women activists, organisers and researchers stated at 
the end of the UN Decade for Women, 'The almost uniform conclusion of the 
Decade's research is that with a few exceptions, women's relative access to 
economic resources, incomes and employment has worsened, their burden of 


work has increased, and their relative and even absolute health, nutritional and 
educational status has declined .’ 4 

The displacement of women from productive activity by the expansion of 
development was rooted largely in the manner in which development projects 
appropriated or destroyed the natural resource base for the production of 
sustenance and survival. It destroyed women's productivity both by removing 
land, water and forests from their management and control, as well as through 
the ecological destruction of soil, water and vegetation systems so that nature's 
productivity and renewability were impaired. While gender subordination and 
patriarchy are the oldest oppressions, they have taken on new and more violent 
forms through the project of development. Patriarchal categories which 
understand destruction as 'production' and regeneration of life as passivity have 
generated a crisis of survival. Passivity, as an assumed category of the 'nature' of 
nature and of women, denies the activity of nature and life. Fragmentation and 
uniformity as assumed categories of progress and development destroy the 
living forces which arise from relationships within the 'web of life' and the 
diversity in the elements and patterns of these relationships. 

The economic biases and values against nature, women and indigenous 
peoples are captured in this typical analysis of the 'unproductiveness' of 
traditional natural societies: 

Production is achieved through human and animal, rather than mechanical, 
power. Most agriculture is unproductive; human or animal manure may be 
used but chemical fertilisers and pesticides are unknown ... For the masses, 
these conditions mean poverty . 5 

The assumptions are evident: nature is unproductive; organic agriculture 
based on nature's cycles of renewability spells poverty; women and tribal and 
peasant societies embedded in nature are similarly unproductive, not because it 
has been demonstrated that in cooperation they produce less goods and services 
for needs, but because it is assumed that 'production' takes place only when 
mediated by technologies for commodity production, even when such 
technologies destroy life. A stable and clean river is not a productive resource in 
this view: it needs to be 'developed' with dams in order to become so. Women, 
sharing the river as a commons to satisfy the water needs of their families and 
society are not involved in productive labour: when substituted by the 
engineering man, water management and water use become productive 
activities. Natural forests remain unproductive till they are developed into 


monoculture plantations of commercial species. Development thus, is equivalent 
to maldevelopment, a development bereft of the feminine, the conservation, the 
ecological principle. The neglect of nature's work in renewing herself, and 
women's work in producing sustenance in the form of basic, vital needs is an 
essential part of the paradigm of maldevelopment, which sees all work that does 
not produce profits and capital as non or unproductive work. As Maria Mies 6 has 
pointed out, this concept of surplus has a patriarchal bias because, from the point 
of view of nature and women, it is not based on material surplus produced over 
and above the requirements of the community: it is stolen and appropriated 
through violent modes from nature (who needs a share of her produce to 
reproduce herself) and from women (who need a share of nature's produce to 
produce sustenance and ensure survival). 

From the perspective of Third World women, productivity is a measure of 
producing life and sustenance; that this kind of productivity has been rendered 
invisible does not reduce its centrality to survival - it merely reflects the 
domination of modern patriarchal economic categories which see only profits, 
not life. 

Maldevelopment as the death of the feminine principle 

In this analysis, maldevelopment becomes a new source of male female 
inequality. 'Modernisation' has been associated with the introduction of new 
forms of dominance. Alice Schlegel 7 has shown that under conditions of 
subsistence, the interdependence and co of work is the characteristic mode, 
based on diversity, not inequality. 

Maldevelopment militates against equality in diversity, and superimposes 
the ideologically constructed category of western technological man as a 
uniform measure of the worth of classes, cultures and genders. Dominant modes 
of perception based on reductionism, duality and linearity are unable to cope 
with equality in diversity, with forms and activities that are significant and valid, 
even though different. The reductionist mind superimposes the roles and forms 
of power of western male-oriented concepts on women, all non-western peoples 
and even on nature, rendering all three 'deficient', and in need of 'development'. 
Diversity, and unity and harmony in diversity, become epistemologically 
unattainable in the context of maldevelopment, which then becomes synonym- 
ous with women's underdevelopment (increasing sexist domination), and 
nature's depletion (deepening ecological crises). Commodities have grown, but 


nature has shrunk. The poverty crisis of the south arises from the growing 
scarcity of water, food, fodder and fuel, associated with increasing 
maldevelopment and ecological destruction. This poverty crisis touches women 
most severely, first because they are the poorest among the poor, and then 
because, with nature, they are the primary sustainers of society. 

Maldevelopment is the violation of the integrity of organic, interconnected 
and interdependent systems, that sets in motion a process of exploitation, 
inequality, injustice and violence. It is blind to the fact that a recognition of 
nature's harmony and action to maintain it are preconditions for distributive 
justice. This is why Mahatma Gandhi said, 'There is enough in the world for 
everyone's need, but not for some people's greed.' 

Maldevelopment is maldevelopment in thought and action. In practice, this 
fragmented, reductionist, dualist perspective violates the integrity and harmony 
of man in nature, and the harmony between men and women. It ruptures the 
co-operative unity of masculine and feminine, and places man, shorn of the 
feminine principle, above nature and women, and separated from both. The 
violence to nature as symptomatised by the ecological crisis, and the violence to 
women, as symptomatised by their subjugation and exploitation arise from this 
subjugation of the feminine principle. 1 want to argue that what is currently 
called development is essentially maldevelopment, based on the introduction or 
accentuation of the domination of man over nature and women. In it, both are 
viewed as the 'other', the passive non-self. Activity, productivity, creativity 
which were associated with the feminine principle are expropriated as qualities 
of nature and women, and transformed into the exclusive qualities of man. 
Nature and women are turned into passive objects, to be used and exploited for 
the uncontrolled and uncontrollable desires of alienated man. From being the 
creators and sustainers of life, nature and women are reduced to being 
‘resources' in the fragmented, anti-life model of maldevelopment. 

Two kinds of growth, two kinds of productivity 

Maldevelopment is usually called 'economic growth', measured by the Gross 
National Product. Porritt, a leading ecologist has this to say Of GNP: 

Gross National Product - for once a word is being used correctly. Even 
conventional economists admit that the hey-day Of GNP is over, for the 
simple reason that as a measure of progress, it's more or less useless. 
GNP measures the lot, all the goods and services produced in the money 


economy. Many of these goods and services are not beneficial to people, 
but rather a measure of just how much is going wrong; increased 
spending on crime, on pollution, on the many human casualties of our 
society, increased spending because of waste or planned obsolescence, 
increased I spending because of growing bureaucracies: it's all counted. 8 
The problem with GNP is that it measures some costs as benefits (eg. pollution 
control) and fails to measure other costs completely. Among these hidden costs 
are the new burdens created by ecological devastation, costs that are invariably 
heavier for women, both in the North and South. It is hardly surprising, 
therefore, that as GNP rises, it does not necessarily mean that either wealth or 
welfare increase proportionately. 1 would argue that- GNP is becoming, 
increasingly, a measure of how real wealth-the wealth of nature and that 
produced by women for sustaining life - is rapidly decreasing. When commodity 
production as the prime economic activity is introduced as development, it 
destroys the potential of nature and women to produce life and goods and 
services for basic needs. More commodities and more cash mean less life - in 
nature (through ecological destruction) and in society (through denial of basic 
needs). Women are devalued first, because their work cooperates with nature's 
processes, and second, because work which satisfies needs and ensures 
sustenance is devalued in general. Precisely because more growth in 
maldevelopment has meant less sustenance of life and life-support systems, it is 
now imperative to recover the feminine principle as the basis for development 
which conserves and is ecological. Feminism as ecology, and ecology as the 
revival of Prakriti, the source of all life, become the decentred powers of 
political and economic transformation and restructuring. This involves, first, a 
recognition that categories of 'productivity' and growth which have been taken to 
be positive, progressive and universal are, in reality, restricted patriarchal 
categories. When viewed from the point of view of nature's productivity and 
growth, and women’s production of sustenance, they are found to be eco 
logically destructive and a source of gender inequality. It is no accident that the 
modern, efficient and productive technologies created within the context of 
growth in market economic terms are associated with heavy ecological costs, 
borne largely by women. The resource and energy intensive production 
processes they give rise to demand ever increasing resource withdrawals from 
the ecosystem. These withdrawals disrupt essential ecological processes and 
convert renewable resources into non-renewable ones. A forest for example, 


provides inexhaustible supplies of diverse biomass over time if its capital stock 
is maintained and it is harvested on a sustained yield basis. The heavy and 
uncontrolled demand for industrial and commercial wood, however, requires the 
continuous overfelling of trees which exceeds the regenerative capacity of the 
forest ecosystem, and eventually converts the forests into non-renewable 
resources. Women's work in the collection of water, fodder and fuel is thus 
rendered more energy and time-consuming. (In Garhwal, for example, I have 
seen women who originally collected fodder and fuel in a few hours, now travel- 
ling long distances by Puck to collect grass and leaves in a task that might take 
up to two days.) Sometimes the damage to nature’s intrinsic regenerative 
capacity is impaired not by over- exploitation of a particular resource but, 
indirectly, by damage caused to other related natural resources through 
ecological processes. Thus the excessive overfelling of trees in the catchment 
areas of streams and rivers destroys not only forest resources, but also renewable 
supplies of water, through hydrological destabilisation. Resource intensive 
industries disrupt essential ecological processes not only by their excessive 
demands for raw material, but by their pollution of air and water and soil. Often 
such destruction is caused by the resource demands of non-vital industrial 
products. Inspite of severe ecological crises, this paradigm continues to operate 
because for the North and for the elites of the South, resources continue to be 
available, even now. The lack of recognition of nature's processes for survival as 
factors in the process of economic development shrouds the political issues 
arising from resource transfer and resource destruction, and creates an 
ideological weapon for increased control over natural resources in the conven- 
tionally employed notion of productivity. All other costs of the economic 
process consequently become invisible. The forces which contribute to the 
increased 'productivity' of a modern farmer or factory worker for instance, come 
from the increased use of natural resources. Lovins has described this as the 
amount of I slave' labour presently at work in the world. 9 According to him each 
person on earth, on an average, possesses the equivalent of about 50 slaves, each 
working a 40 hour week. Man's global energy conversion from all sources 
(wood, fossil fuel, hydroelectric power, nuclear) is currently approximately 
8xl0 12 watts. This is more than 20 times the energy content of the food necessary 
to feed the present world population at the FAO standard diet of 3,600 cal/day. 
The 'productivity' of the western male compared to women or Third World 
peasants is not intrinsically superior; it is based on the average inhabitant of the 


USA for example has 250 times more 1 slaves' than the average Nigerian. 'If 
Americans were short of 249 of those 250 'slaves', one wonders how efficient 
they would prove themselves to be?' 

It is these resource and energy intensive processes of production which 
divert resources away from survival, and hence from women. What patriarchy 
sees as productive work, is, in ecological terms highly destructive production. 
The second law of thermodynamics predicts that resource intensive and resource 
wasteful economic development must become a threat to the survival of the 
human species in the long run. Political struggles based on ecology in 
industrially advanced countries are rooted in this conflict between long term 
survival options and short term over-production and over-consumption. 
Political struggles of women, peasants and tribals based on ecology in countries 
like India are far more acute and urgent since they are rooted in the immediate 
threat to the options for survival for the vast majority of the people, posed by 
resource intensive and resource wasteful economic growth for the benefit of a 

In the market economy, the organising principle for natural resource use is 
the maximisation of profits and capital accumulation. Nature and human needs 
are managed through market mechanisms. Demands for natural resources are 
restricted to those demands registering on the market; the ideology of 
development is in large part based on a vision of bringing all natural resources 
into the market economy for commodity production. When these resources are 
already being used by nature to maintain her production of renewable resources 
and by women for sustenance and livelihood, their diversion to the market 
economy generates a scarcity condition for ecological stability and creates new 
forms of poverty for women. 

Two kinds of poverty 

In a book entitled Poverty: the Wealth of the People 10 an African writer draws a 
distinction between poverty as subsistence, and misery as deprivation. It is 
useful to separate a cultural conception of subsistence living as poverty from the 
material experience of poverty that is a result of dispossession and deprivation. 
Culturally perceived poverty need not be real material poverty: subsistence 
economics which satisfy basic needs through self-provisioning are not poor in 
the sense of being deprived. Yet the ideology of development declares them so 
because they do not participate overwhelmingly in the market economy, and do 

not consume commodities produced for and distributed through the market even 
though they might be satisfying those needs through self provisioning 
mechanisms. People are perceived as poor if they eat millets (grown by women) 
rather than commercially produced and distributed processed foods sold by 
global agri-business. They are seen as poor if they live in self-built housing 
made from natural material like bamboo and mud rather than in cement houses. 
They are seen as poor if they wear handmade garments of natural fibre rather 
than synthetics. Subsistence, as culturally perceived poverty, does not 
necessarily imply a low physical quality of life. On the contrary, millets are 
nutritionally far superior to processed foods, houses built with local materials 
are far superior, being better adapted to the local climate and ecology, natural 
fibres are preferable to man-made fibres in most cases, and certainly more 
affordable. This cultural perception of prudent subsistence living as poverty has 
provided the legitimisation for the development process as a poverty removal 
project. As a culturally biased project it destroys wholesome and sustainable 
lifestyles and creates real material poverty, or misery, by the denial of survival 
needs themselves, through the diversion of resources to resource intensive 
commodity production. Cash crop production and food processing take land and 
water resources away from sustenance needs, and exclude increasingly large 
numbers of people from their entitlements to food. 'The inexorable processes of 
agriculture industrialisation and internationalisation are probably responsible for 
more hungry people than either cruel or unusual whims of nature. There are 
several reasons why the high-technology-export-crop model increases hunger. 
Scarce land, credit, water and technology are pre-empted for the export market. 
Most hungry people are not affected by the market at all.... The profits flow to 
corporations that have no interest in feeding hungry people without money .’ 11 
The Ethiopian famine is in part an example of the creation of real poverty by 
development aimed at removing culturally perceived poverty. The displacement 
of nomadic Afars from their traditional pastureland in Awash Valley by 
commercial agriculture (financed by foreign companies) led to their struggle for 
survival in the fragile uplands which degraded the ecosystem and led to the 
starvation of cattle and the nomads . 12 The market economy conflicted with the 
survival economy in the Valley, thus creating a conflict between the survival 
economy and nature's economy in the uplands. At no point has the global 
marketing of agricultural commodities been assessed against the background of 
the new conditions of scarcity and poverty that it has induced. This new poverty 


moreover, is no longer cultural and relative: it is absolute, threatening the very 
survival of millions on this planet. 

The economic system based on the patriarchal concept of productivity was 
created for the very specific historical and political phenomenon of colonialism. 
In it, the input for which efficiency of use had to be maximised in the production 
centres of Europe, was industrial labour. For colonial interest therefore, it was 
rational to improve the labour resource even at the cost of wasteful use of 
nature’s wealth. This rationalisation has, however, been illegitimate 
universalised to all contexts and interest groups and, on the plea of increasing 
productivity, labour reducing technologies have been introduced in situations 
where labour is abundant and cheap, and resource demanding technologies have 
been introduced where resources are scarce and already fully utilised for the pro- 
duction of sustenance. Traditional economies with a stable ecology have shared 
with industrially advanced affluent economies the ability to use natural 
resources to satisfy basic vital needs. The former differ from the latter in two 
essential ways: first, the same needs are satisfied in industrial societies through 
longer technological chains requiring higher energy and resource inputs and 
excluding large numbers without purchasing power; and second, affluence 
generates new and artificial needs requiring the increased production of 
industrial goods and services. Traditional economies are not advanced in the 
matter of non-vital needs satisfaction, but as far as the satisfaction of basic and 
vital needs is concerned, they are often what Marshall Sahlins has called 'the 
original affluent society'. The needs of the Amazonian tribes are more than 
satisfied by the rich rainforest; their poverty begins with its destruction. The 
story is the same for the Gonds of Bastar in India or the Penans of Sarawak in 

Thus are economies based on indigenous technologies viewed as 'backward' 
and 'unproductive'. Poverty, as the denial of basic needs, is not necessarily 
associated with the existence of traditional technologies and its removal is not 
necessarily an outcome of the growth of modern ones. On the contrary, the 
destruction of ecologically sound traditional technologies, often created and 
used by women, along with the destruction of their material base is generally 
believed to be responsible for the 'feminisation' of poverty in societies which 
have had to bear the costs of resource destruction. 

The contemporary poverty of the Afar nomad is not rooted in the 
inadequacies of traditional nomadic life, but in the diversion of the productive 


pastureland of the Awash Valley. The erosion of the resource base for survival is 
increasingly being caused by the demand for resources by the market economy, 
dominated by global forces. The creation of inequality through economic 
activity which is ecologically disruptive arises in two ways: first, inequalities in 
the distribution of privileges make for unequal access to natural resources - these 
include privileges of both a political and economic nature. Second, resource 
intensive production processes have access to subsidised raw material on which 
a substantial number of people, especially from the less privileged economic 
groups, depend for their survival. The consumption of such industrial raw 
material is determined purely by market forces, and not by considerations of the 
social or ecological requirements placed on them. The costs of resource 
destruction are externalised and unequally divided among various economic 
groups in society, but are borne largely by women and those who satisfy their 
basic material needs directly from nature, simply because they have no 
purchasing power to register their demands on the goods and services provided 
by the modern production system. Gustavo Esteva has called development a 
permanent war waged by its promoters and suffered by its victims. 13 

The paradox and crisis of development arises from the mistaken 
identification of culturally perceived poverty with real material poverty, and the 
mistaken identification of the growth of commodity production as better 
satisfaction of basic needs, in actual fact, there is less water, less fertile soil, less 
genetic Wealth as a result of the , development process. Since these natural 
resources are the basis of nature's economy and women's survival economy, 
their scarcity is impoverishing women and marginalised peoples in an 
unprecedented manner. Their new impoverishment lies in the fact that resources 
which supported their survival were absorbed into the market economy while 
they themselves were excluded and displaced by it. 

The old assumption that with the development process the availability of 
goods and services will automatically be increased and poverty will be removed, 
is now under serious challenge from women's ecology movements in the Third 
World, even while it continues to guide development thinking in centres of 
patriarchal power. Survival is based on the assumption of the sanctity of life; 
maldevelopment is based on the assumption of the sacredness of 'development'. 
Gustavo Esteva asserts that the sacredness of development has to be refuted 
because it threatens survival itself. 'My people are tired of development', he says, 
'they j ust want to live. ’ 14 


The recovery of the feminine principle allows a transcendence and 
transformation of these patriarchal foundations of maldevelopment. It allows a 
redefinition of growth and productivity as categories linked to the production, 
not the destruction, of life. It is thus simultaneously an ecological and a feminist 
political project which legitimises the way of knowing and being that create 
wealth by enhancing life and diversity, and which deligitimises the knowledge 
and practise of a culture of death as the basis for capital accumulation. 


1 Chinua Achebe, No Longer at Ease, London: Heinemann, 1960, p. 45. 

2 An elaboration of how 'development' transfers resources from the poor to the 
well-endowed is contained in J. Bandyopadhyay andV. Shiva, 'Political 
Economy of Technological Polarisations' in Economic and Political Weekly, 
Vol. XVIII, 1982, pp. 1827-32; and J. Bandyopadhyay and V. Shiva, 
'Political Economy of Ecology Movements', in Economic and Political 
weekly, forthcoming, 

3 Ester Boserup, Women's Role in Economic Development, London: Allen and 
Unwin, 1970. 

4 Dawn, Development Crisis and Alternative Visions.. Third World Women's 
Perspectives, Bergen: Christian Michelsen Institute, 1985, p. 21. 

5 M. George Foster, Traditional Societies and Technological Change, Delhi: 
Allied Publishers, 1973. 

6 Maria Mies, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, London: Zed 
Books, 1986. 

7 Alice Schlegel (ed.), Sexual Stratification: A Cross-Cultural Study, New 
York: Columbia University Press, 1977. 

8 Jonathan Porritt, Seeing Green, Oxford: Blackwell, 1984. 

9 A. Lovins, cited in S.R. Eyre, The Real Wealth of Nations, London: Edward 
Arnold, 1978. 

10 R. Bahro, From Red to Green, London.. Verso, 1984, p. 2 11. 

1 1 R.J. Barnet, The Lean Year, London: Abacus, 1981, p. 171. 

12 U.P. Koehn, 'African Approaches to Environmental Stress: A Focus on 
Ethiopia and Nigeria in R.N. Barrett (ed.), International Dimensions of the 
Environmental Crisis, Colorado: Westview, 1982, pp. 253-89. 


13 Gustavo Esteva, 'Regenerating People's Space' in S.N. Mendlowitz and 
R.BJ. Walker, Towards a just World Peace, Perspectives From Social 
Movements, London: Butterworths and Committee for a just World Peace, 

14 G. Esteva, Remarks made at a Conference of the Society for international 
Development, Rome, 1985. 


2. Science, Nature and Gender 

The recovery of the feminine principle is an intellectual and political challenge 
to maldevelopment as a patriarchal project of domination and destruction, of 
violence and subjugation, of dispossession and the dispensability of both women 
and nature. The politics of life centred on the feminine principle challenges 
fundamental assumptions not just in political economy, but also in the science of 
life-threatening processes. 

Maldevelopment is intellectually based on, and justified through, 
reductionist categories of scientific thought and action. Politically and 
economically each project which has fragmented nature and displaced women 
from productive work has been legitimised as 'scientific' by operationalising 
reductionist concepts to realise uniformity, centralisation and control. 
Development is thus the introduction of 'scientific agriculture', 'scientific animal 
husbandry', 'scientific water management' and so on. The reductionist and 
universalising tendencies of such 'science' become inherently violent and 
destructive in a world which is inherently interrelated and diverse. The feminine 
principle becomes an oppositional category of non-violent ways of conceiving 
the world, and of acting in it to sustain all life by maintaining the 
interconnectedness and diversity of nature. It allows an ecological transition 
from violence to non-violence, from destruction to creativity, from anti-life to 
life-giving processes, from uniformity to diversity and from fragmentation and 
reductionism to holism and complexity. 

It is thus not just 'development' which is a source of violence to women and 
nature. At a deeper level, scientific knowledge, on which the development 
process is based, is itself a source of violence. Modern reductionist science, like 
development, turns out to be a patriarchal project, which has excluded women as 
experts, and has simultaneously excluded ecological and holistic ways of 


knowing which understand and respect nature's processes and 
interconnectedness as science. 

Modern science as patriarchy's project 

Modern science is projected as a universal, value -free system of knowledge, 
which has displaced all other belief and knowledge systems by its universality 
and value neutrality, and by the logic of its method to arrive at objective claims 
about nature. Yet the dominant stream of modern science, the reductionist or 
mechanical paradigm, is a particular response of a particular group of people. It 
is a specific project of western man which came into being during the fifteenth 
and seventeenth centuries as the much-acclaimed Scientific Revolution. During 
the last few years feminist scholarship has begun to recognise that the dominant 
science system emerged as a liberating force not for humanity as a whole 
(though it legitimised itself in terms of universal betterment of the species), but 
as a masculine and patriarchal project which necessarily entailed the subjugation 
of both nature and women. Harding has called it a 'western, bourgeois, 
masculine project', 1 and according to Keller 

Science has been produced by a particular sub-set of the human race, 
that is, almost entirely by white, middle class males. For the founding 
fathers of modern science, the reliance on the language of gender was 
explicit; they sought a philosophy that deserved to be called 'masculine', 
that could be distinguished from its ineffective predecessors by its 
'virile' powers, its capacity to bind Nature to man's service and make her 
his slave. 2 

Bacon (1561-1626) was the father of modern science, the originator of the 
concept of the modem research institute and industrial science, and the 
inspiration behind the Royal Society. His contribution to modern science and its 
organisation is critical. From the point of view of nature, women and marginal 
groups, however, Bacon's programme was not humanly inclusive. It was a 
special programme benefiting the middle class, European, male entrepreneur 
through the conjunction of human knowledge and power in science. 

In Bacon's experimental method, which was central to this masculine 
project, there was a dichotomising between male and female, mind and matter, 
objective and subjective, rational and emotional, and a conjunction of masculine 
and scientific dominating over nature, women and the non-west. His was not a 
'neutral', , objective', 'scientific' method - it was a masculine mode of aggression 


against nature and domination over women. The severe testing of hypotheses 
through controlled manipulations of nature, and the necessity of such 
manipulations if experiments are to be repeatable, are here formulated in clearly 
sexist metaphors. Both nature and inquiry appear conceptualized in ways 
modelled on rape and torture - on man's most violent and misogynous relation- 
ships with women - and this modelling is advanced as a reason to value science. 
According to Bacon 'the nature of things betrays itself more readily under the 
vexations of art than in its natural freedom.' 3 The discipline of scientific 
knowledge and the mechanical inventions it leads to, do not 'merely exert a 
gentle guidance over nature's course; they have the power to conquer and subdue 
her, to shake her to her foundations'. 4 

In Tempores Partus Masculus or The Masculine Birth of Time, translated by 
Farrington in 1951, Bacon promised to create 'a blessed race of heroes and 
supermen' who would dominate both nature and society. 5 The title is interpreted 
by Farrington as suggesting a shift from the older science, represented as 
female -passive and weak - to a new masculine science of the scientific 
revolution which Bacon saw himself as heralding. In New Atlantis, Bacon's 
Bensalem was administered from Solomon's House, a scientific research 
institute, from which male scientists ruled over and made decisions for society, 
and decided which secrets should be revealed and which remain the private 
property of the institute. 

Science-dominated society has evolved very much in the pattern of Bacon's 
Bensalem, with nature being transformed and mutilated in modern Solomon's 
Houses - corporate labs and the university programmes they sponsor. With the 
new biotechnologies. Bacon's vision of controlling reproduction for the sake of 
production is being realised, while the green revolution and the bio-revolution 
have realised what in New Atlantis was only a utopia. 

'We make by act trees and flowers to come earlier or later than their seasons, 
and to come up and bear more speedily than by their natural course they do. We 
make them by act greater, much more than their nature, and their fruit greater 
and sweeter and of differing taste, smell, colour and figure from their nature.' 6 
For Bacon, nature was no longer Mother Nature, but a female nature, conquered 
by an aggressive masculine mind. As Carolyn Merchant points out, this 
transformation of nature from a living, nurturing mother to inert, dead and 
manipulable matter was eminently suited to the exploitation imperative of 
growing capitalism. The nurturing earth image acted as a cultural constraint on 


exploitation of nature. 'One does not readily slay a mother, dig her entrails or 
mutilate her body. 'But the mastery and domination images created by the 
Baconian programme and the scientific revolution removed all restraint and 
functioned as cultural sanctions for the denudation of nature. 

The removal of animistic, organic assumptions about the cosmos 
constituted the death of nature - the most far reaching effect of the 
scientific revolution. Because nature was not viewed as a system of 
dead, inert particles moved by external, rather than inherent forces, the 
mechanical framework itself could legitimate the manipulation of 
nature. Moreover, as a conceptual framework, the mechanical order had 
associated with it a framework of values based on power, fully 
compatible with the directions taken by commercial capitalism. 7 
Modern science was a consciously gendered, patriarchal activity. As nature 
came to be seen more like a woman to be raped, gender too was recreated. 
Science as a male venture, based on the subjugation of female nature and female 
sex provided support for the polarisation of gender. Patriarchy as the new 
scientific and technological power was a political need of emerging industrial 
capitalism. While on the one hand the ideology of science sanctioned the 
denudation of nature, on the other it legitimised the dependency of women and 
the authority of men. Science and masculinity were associated in domination 
over nature and feminity, and the ideologies of science and gender reinforced 
each other. The witch hunting hysteria which was aimed at annihilating women 
in Europe as knowers and experts was cotemporous with two centuries of 
scientific revolution. It reached its peak with Galileo's Dialogue concerning the 
Two Chief World Systems and died with the emergence of the Royal Society of 
London and the Paris Academy of Sciences. 8 

The interrogation of witches as a symbol for the interrogation of nature, 
the courtroom as model for its inquisition, and torture through 
mechanical devices as a tool for the subjugation of disorder were 
fundamental to the scientific method as power. For Bacon, as for 
Harvey, sexual politics helped to structure the nature of the empirical 
method that would produce a new form of knowledge and a new ideo- 
logy of objectivity seemingly devoid of cultural and political 
assumptions. 9 

The Royal Society, inspired by Bacon's philosophy, was clearly seen by its 
organisers as a masculine project, in 1664, Henry Oldenberg, Secretary of the 


Royal Society announced that the intention of the society was to 'raise a 
masculine philosophy... whereby the Mind of Man may be ennobled with the 
knowledge of solid Truths '. 10 And for Glanvill, the masculine aim of science was 
to know' the ways of captivating Nature, and making her subserve our purposes, 
thereby achieving the Empire of Man Over Nature .' 11 Glanvill advocated 
chemistry as one of the most useful arts for 'by the violence of its artful fires it is 
made to confess those latent parts, which upon less provocation it would not 
disclose .' 12 The 'de-mothering' of nature through modern science and the 
marriage of knowledge with power was simultaneously a source of subjugating 
women as well as non-European peoples. Robert Boyle, the famous scientist 
who was also the Governor of the New England Company, saw the rise of 
mechanical philosophy as an instrument of power not just over nature but also 
over the original inhabitants of America. He explicitly declared his intention of 
ridding the New England Indians of their ridiculous notions about the workings 
of nature. He attacked their perception of nature, 'as a kind of goddess', and 
argued that the veneration, wherewith men are imbued for what they call nature, 
has been a discouraging impediment to the empire of man over the inferior 
creatures of God '. 13 

Today, with new ecological awareness, ecologists the world over turn to the 
beliefs of native American and other indigenous peoples as a special source for 
learning how to live in harmony with nature. There are many today from the 
ecology and women's movements who see irrationality in Boyle's impulse for 
the empire of white man over nature and other peoples, and who see rationality 
in the words of Indian Chief Smohalla when he cried out: 'You ask me to plough 
the ground: shall I take a knife and tear my mother's bosom? You ask me to cut 
grass and make hay and sell it and be rich like white men; but how dare I cut off 
my mother's hair ?' 14 

Chief Seattle's letter, which has become a major inspiration for the ecology 
movement states, 'This we know - the earth does not belong to man, man 
belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood which unites one 
family. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not 
weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he 
does to himself.' 

The ecological and feminist alternatives to reductionist science are clearly 
not the first attempts to create a science of nature that is not gendered and 
disruptive. The period of the scientific revolution itself was full of alternatives to 


the masculine project of mechanistic, reductionist science, and it was also full of 
struggles between gendered and non-gendered science. Bacon and Paracelsus 
are the leading exponents of the two competing trends of modern science in 
seventeenth century Europe. 15 The Paracelsians belonged to the hermetic 
tradition which did not dichotomise between mind and matter, male and female. 
The mechanical school represented by Bacon created dichotomies between 
culture and nature, mind and matter and male and female, and devised a 
conceptual strategy for the former to dominate over the latter. The two visions of 
science were also two visions of nature, power and gender relations. For 
Paracelsus the male did not dominate over the female, the two complemented 
each other, and knowledge and power did not arise from dominating over nature 
but from 'cohabiting with the elements', 16 which were themselves interconnected 
to form a living organism. For the Paracelsian, 'The whole world is knit and 
bound within itself: for the world is a living creature, everywhere both female 
and male,' and knowledge of nature is derived through participating in these 
interconnections. 17 

With the formation of the Royal Society and in the context of emerging 
industrial capitalism, the contest between the mechanical and hermetic traditions 
was won by the masculine project which was the project of a particular class. 
Paracelsus and Bacon did not merely differ in their ideology of gender and 
science; they were also differently rooted in the politics of class, with Bacon 
committed to middle class values (finally becoming Ford Chancellor and Bacon 
Verulam in 1618 in the reign of James I) and identifying with capitalists, 
merchants and the State in his scientific project, and Paracelsus, on the side of 
the peasants in their uprising in the Tyrol. 18 Reductionist science became a major 
agent of economic and political change in the centuries to follow, dichotomising 
gender and class relations and man's relationship with nature. 'Given the success 
of modern science, defined in opposition to everything female, fears of both 
Nature and Woman could subside. With the one reduced to its mechanical 
substrata, and the other to her sexual virtue, the essence of Mater could be both 
tamed and conquered.' 19 

For more than three centuries, reductionism has ruled as the only valid 
scientific method and system, distorting the history of the west as well as the 
non-west. It has hidden its ideology behind projected objectivism, neutrality and 
progress. The ideology that hides ideology has transformed complex pluralistic 
traditions of knowledge into a monolith of gender-based, class-based thought 


and transformed this particular tradition into a superior and universal tradition to 
be superimposed on all classes, genders and cultures which it helps in 
controlling and subjugating. This ideological projection has kept modern 
reductionist science inaccessible to criticism. The parochial roots of science in 
patriarchy and in a particular class and culture have been concealed behind a 
claim to universality, and can be seen only through other traditions - of women 
and non- western peoples. It is these subjugated traditions that are revealing how 
modern science is gendered, how it is specific to the needs and impulses of the 
dominant western culture and how ecological destruction and nature's 
exploitation are inherent to its logic. It is becoming increasingly clear that 
scientific neutrality has been a reflection of ideology, not history, and science is 
similar to all other socially constructed categories. This view of science as a 
social and political project of modern western man emerging from the responses 
of those who were defined into nature and made passive and powerless: Mother 
Earth, women and colonised cultures. It is from these fringes that we are begin- 
ning to discern the economic, political and cultural mechanisms that have 
allowed a parochial science to dominate and how mechanisms of power and 
violence can be eliminated for a degendered, humanly inclusive knowledge. 

The violence of reductionism 

The myth that the 'scientific revolution' was a universal process of intellectual 
progress is being steadily undermined by feminist scholarship and the histories 
of science of non-western cultures. These are relating the rise of the reductionist 
paradigm with the subjugation and destruction of women's knowledge in the 
west, and the knowledge of non-western cultures. The witch-hunts of Europe 
were largely a process of delegitimising and destroying the expertise of 
European women. In 1511, England had an Act of Parliament directed against 
'common artificers, as smythes, weavers and women who attempt great cures 
and things of great difficulties: in the witch they partly use sorcerye and 
witch-craft’. 20 By the sixteenth century women in Europe were totally excluded 
from the practice of medicine and healing because 'wise women' ran the risk of 
being declared witches. A deeper, more violent form of exclusion of women's 
knowledge and expertise, and of the knowledge of tribal and peasant cultures is 
now under way with the spread of the masculinist paradigm' of science through 


I characterise modern western patriarchy's special epistemological tradition 
of the 'scientific revolution' as 'reductionist' because it reduced the capacity of 
humans to know nature both by excluding other knowers and other ways of 
knowing, and-it reduced the capacity of nature to creatively regenerate and 
renew itself by manipulating it as inert and fragmented matter. Reductionism has 
a set of distinctive characteristics which demarcates it from all other 
non-reductionist knowledge systems which it has subjugated and replaced. The 
basic ontological and epistemological assumptions of reductionism are based on 
homogeneity. It sees all systems as made up of the same basic constituents, 
discrete, unrelated and atomistic, and it assumes that all basic processes are 
mechanical. The mechanistic metaphors of reductionism have socially reconsti- 
tuted nature and society, in contrast to the organic metaphors, in which concepts 
of order and power were based on interconnectedness and reciprocity, the 
metaphor of nature as a machine was based on the assumption of separability 
and manipulability. As Carolyn Merchant has remarked: 'in investigating the 
roots of our current environmental dilemma and its connections to science, 
technology and the economy, we must re-examine the formation of a 
world-view and a science that, by reconceptualising reality as a machine, rather 
than a having organism, sanctioned the domination of both nature and women.' 21 
This domination is inherently violent, understood here as the violation of 
integrity. Reductionist science is a source of violence against nature and women 
because it subjugates and dispossesses them of their full productivity, power and 
potential. The epistemological assumptions of reductionism are related to its 
ontological assumptions: uniformity allows the knowledge of parts of a system 
to be taken as knowledge of the whole. Separability allows context-free 
abstraction of knowledge and creates criteria of validity based on alienation and 
non-participation, then projected as 'objectivity'. 'Experts' and specialists' are 
thus projected as the only legitimate knowledge seekers and justifiers. 

Profits, reductionism and violence 

The close nexus between reductionist science, patriarchy, violence and profits is 
explicit in 80 per cent of scientific research that is devoted to the war industry, 
and is frankly aimed directly at lethal violence - violence, in modern times, not 
only against the enemy fighting force but also against the much larger civilian 
population. In this book 1 argue that modern science is related to violence and 
profits even in peaceful domains such as, for example, forestry and agriculture, 


where the professed objective of scientific research is human welfare. The 
relationship between reductionism, violence and profits is built into the genesis 
of masculinist science, for its reductionist nature is an epistemic response to an 
economic organisation based on uncontrolled exploitation of nature for 
maximization of profits and capital accumulation. 

Reductionism, far from being an epistemological accident, is a response to 
the needs of a particular form of economic and political organisation . 22 The 
reductionist world-view, the industrial revolution and the capitalist economy 
were the philosophical, technological and economic components of the same 
process. Individual firms and the fragmented sector of the economy, whether 
privately owned or state owned, have only their own efficiency and profits in 
mind; and every firm and sector measures its efficiency by the extent to which it 
maximizes its gains, regardless of the maximization of social and ecological 
costs. The logic of this internal efficiency has been provided by reductionism. 
Only those properties of a resource system are taken into account which generate 
profits through exploitation and extraction; properties which stabilise ecological 
processes but are commercially non-exploitative are ignored and eventually 

Commercial capitalism is based on specialised commodity production. 
Uniformity in production, and the uni-functional use of natural resources is 
therefore required. Reductionism thus reduces complex ecosystems to a single 
component, and a single component to a single function. It further allows the 
manipulation of the ecosystem in a manner that maximizes the single- function, 
single component exploitation. In the reductionist paradigm, a forest is reduced 
to commercial wood, and wood is reduced to cellulose fibre for the pulp and 
paper industry. Forests, land and genetic resources are then manipulated to 
increase the production of pulpwood, and this distortion is legitimised 
scientifically as overall productivity increase, even though it might decrease the 
output of water from the forest, or reduce the diversity of life forms that 
constitute a forest community. The living and diverse ecosystem is thus violated 
and destroyed by 'scientific' forestry and forestry 'development'. In this way, 
reductionist science is at the root of the growing ecological crisis, because it 
entails a transformation of nature such that its organic processes and regularities 
and regenerative capacities are destroyed. 

Women in sustenance economies, producing and reproducing wealth in 
partnership with nature, have been experts in their own right of a holistic and 


ecological knowledge of nature's processes. But these alternative modes of 
knowing, which are oriented to social benefits and sustenance needs, are not 
recognised by the reductionist paradigm, because it fails to perceive the 
interconnectedness of nature, or the connection of women's lives, work and 
knowledge with the creation of wealth. 

The rationality and efficacy of reductionist and non-reductionist knowledge 
systems are never evaluated cognitively. The rationality of reductionist science 
is, a priori, declared superior. If reductionist science has displaced 
non-reductionist modes of knowing, it has done so not through cognitive 
competition, but through political support from the state: development policies 
and programmes provide the financial and material subsidies as well as the 
ideological support for the appropriation of nature for profits. Since the twin 
myths of progress (material prosperity) and superior rationality lost their sheen 
in the working out of development patterns and paradigms, and were visibly 
exploded by widespread ecological crises, the state stepped in to transform the 
myths into an ideology. When an individual firm or sector directly confronts the 
larger society in its appropriation of nature on grounds of progress and 
rationality, people can assess social costs and private benefits for themselves; 
they can differentiate between progress and regression, rationality and 
irrationality. But with the mediation of the state, subjects and citizens become 
objects of change rather than its determinants, and consequently lose both the 
capability and the right to assess progress, if they have to bear the costs instead 
of reaping the benefits of 'development', this is justified as a minor sacrifice for 
the 'national interest'. 

The nexus between the state, the dominant elite and the creation of surplus 
value provides the power with which reductionism establishes its supremacy. 
Institutions of learning in agriculture, medicine and forestry, selectively train 
people in the reductionist paradigms, in the name of 'scientific' agriculture, 
medicine and forestry to establish the superiority of reductionist science. 
Stripped of the power the state invests it with, reductionism can be seen to be 
cognitively weak and ineffective in responding to problems posed by nature. 
Reductionist forestry has destroyed tropical forests, and reductionist agriculture 
is destroying tropical farming. As a system of knowledge about nature or life 
reductionist science is weak and inadequate; as a system of knowledge for the 
market, it is powerful and profitable. Modern science, as we have noted earlier, 
has a world-view that both supports and is supported by the 


socio-political-economic system of western capitalist patriarchy which 
dominates and exploits nature, women and the poor. 

The ultimate reductionism is achieved when nature is linked with a view of 
economic activity in which money is the only gauge of value and wealth. Life 
disappears as an organising principle of economic affairs. But the problem with 
money is that it has an asymmetric relationship to life and living processes. 
Exploitation, manipulation and destruction of the life in nature can be a source of 
money and profits but neither can ever become a source of nature's life and its 
life-supporting capacity. It is this asymmetry that accounts for a deepening of the 
ecological crises as a decrease in nature's life-producing potential, along with an 
increase of capital accumulation and the expansion of 'development' as a process 
of replacing the currency of life and sustenance with the currency of cash and 
profits. The 'development' of Africa by western experts is the primary cause for 
the destruction of Africa; the 'development' of Brazil by transnational banks and 
corporations is the primary cause for the destruction of the richness of 
Amazonian rainforests, the highest expression of life. Natives of Africa and 
Amazonia had survived over centuries with their ecologically evolved, 
indigenous knowledge systems. What local people had conserved through his- 
tory, western experts and knowledge destroyed in a few decades, a few years 

It is this destruction of ecologies and knowledge systems that I characterise 
as the violence of reductionism which results in: a) Violence against women: 
women, tribals, peasants as the knowing subject are violated socially through the 
expert/non- expert divide which converts them into non-knowers even in those 
areas of living in which through daily participation, they are the real experts -and 
in which responsibility of practice and action rests with them, such as in forestry, 
food and water systems, b) Violence against nature: nature as the object of 
knowledge is violated when modern science destroys its integrity of nature, both 
in the process of perception as well as manipulation, c) Violence against the 
beneficiaries of knowledge: contrary to the claim of modern science that people 
in general are ultimately the beneficiaries of scientific knowledge, 
they - particularly the poor and women - are its worst victims, deprived of their 
productive potential, livelihoods and life-support systems. Violence against 
nature recoils on man, the supposed beneficiary, d) Violence against knowledge: 
in order to assume the status of being the only legitimate mode of knowledge, 
rationally superior to alternative modes of knowing, reductionist science resorts 


to the suppression and falsification of facts and thus commits violence against 
science itself It declares organic systems of knowledge irrational, and rejects the 
belief systems of others without full rational evaluation. At the same time it 
protects itself from the exposure and investigation of the myths it has created by 
assigning itself a new sacredness that forbids any questioning of the claims of 

Two kinds of facts 

The conventional model of science, technology and society locates sources of 
violence in politics and ethics, in the application of science and technology, not 
in scientific knowledge itself. The assumed dichotomy between values and facts 
underlying this model implies a dichotomy between the world of values and the 
world of facts. In this view, sources of violence are located in the world of values 
while scientific knowledge inhabits the world of facts. 

The fact-value dichotomy is a creation of modern reductionist science 
which, while being an epistemic response to a particular set of values, posits 
itself as independent of values. By splitting the world into facts vs. values, it 
conceals the real difference between two kinds of value -laden facts. Modern 
reductionist science is characterized in the received view as the discovery of the 
properties and laws of nature in accordance with a 'scientific' method which 
generates claims of being 'objective,' 'neutral' and 'universal'. This view of 
reductionist science as being a description of reality as it is, unprejudiced by 
value, is being rejected increasingly on historical and philosophical grounds. It 
has been historically established that all knowledge, including modern scientific 
knowledge, is built on the use of a plurality of methodologies, and reductionism 
itself is only one of the scientific options available. 

There is no 'scientific method'; there is no single procedure, or set of 
rules that underlies every piece of research and guarantees that it is 
scientific and, therefore, trustworthy. The idea of a universal and stable 
method that is an unchanging measure of adequacy and even the idea of 
a universal and stable rationality is as unrealistic as the idea of a 
universal and stable measuring instrument that measures any 
magnitude, no matter what the circumstances. Scientists revise their 
standards, their procedures, their criteria of rationality as they move 
along and enter new domains of research just as they revise and perhaps 


entirely replace their theories and their instruments as they move along 
and enter new domains of research. 23 

The assumption that science deals purely with facts has no support from the 
practise of science itself. The 'facts' of reductionist science are socially 
constructed categories which have the cultural markings of the western 
bourgeois, patriarchal system which is their context of discovery and 
justification. Carolyn Merchant has shown how, until the sixteenth century in the 
west, organic metaphors were considered scientific and sane. 'An organically 
oriented mentality in which female principles played an important role was 
undermined and replaced by a mechanically oriented mentality that either 
eliminated or used female principles in an exploitative manner. As western 
culture became increasingly mechanized in the 1600s, the female earth and 
virgin earth spirit were subdued by the machine.' 24 The subjugation of other 
traditions of knowledge is similarly a displacement of one set of culturally 
constituted facts of nature by another, riot the substitution of 'superstition' by 
'fact'. The cultural categories of scientific knowledge are not merely cognitive, 
they are also ethical. 

Whereas the nurturing earth image can be viewed as a cultural constraint 
restricting the types of socially and morally sanctioned human actions allowable 
with respect to the earth, the new images of mastery and domination functioned 
as cultural sanctions for the denudation of nature. Controlling images which 
construct facts also operate as ethical restraints or sanctions as subtle 'oughts' 
and ought-nots'. 

In the Third World, the conflict between reductionist and ecological 
perceptions of the world are a contemporary and everyday reality, in which 
western trained male scientists and experts epitomise reductionist knowledge. 
The political struggle for the feminist and ecology movements involves an 
epistemological shift in the criteria of assessment of the rationality of 
knowledge. The worth and validity of reductionist claims and beliefs need to be 
measured against ecological criteria when the crisis of sustainability and 
survival is the primary intellectual challenge. The view of reductionist scientific 
knowledge as a purely factual description of nature, superior to competing 
alternatives, is found to be ecologically unfounded. Ecology perceives 
relationships between different elements of an ecosystem: what propel-ties will 
be selected for a particular resource element will depend on what relationships 
are taken as the context defining the properties. The context is fixed by priorities 


and values guiding the perception of nature. Selection of the context is a value 
determined process and the selection in turn determines what properties are 
seen. There is nothing like a neutral fact about nature independent of the value 
determined by human cognitive and economic activity. Properties perceived in 
nature will depend on how one looks and how one looks depends on the 
economic interest one has in the resources of nature. The value of profit 
maximization is thus linked to reductionist systems, while the value of life and 
the maintenance of life is linked to holistic and ecological systems. 

Two kinds of rationality 

The ontological and epistemological components of the reductionist world-view 
provide the framework for a particular practice of science. According to 
Descartes, 'Method consists entirely in the order as a disposition of the objects 
towards which our mental vision must be directed if we would find out any truth. 
We shall comply with it exactly if we reduce involved and obscure propositions 
step by step to those that are simpler, and then stalling with the intuitive 
apprehension of all those that are absolutely simple, attempt to ascend to the 
knowledge of all others by precisely similar steps .' 25 This method was, in 
Descartes' view, the method to ‘render ourselves the masters and possessors of 
nature'. Yet it singularly fails to lead to a perception of reality (truth) in the case 
of living organisms such as nature (including man), in which the whole is not 
merely the sum of parts, because parts are so cohesively inter-related that 
isolating any one distorts the whole. 

Kuhn, Feyerband, Polanyi and others have convincingly argued that modern 
science is not practised according to a well defined and stable scientific method; 
all that can be granted it is that it is a single mode of thought, among many. 

The controlled experiment and the laboratory are a central element of the 
methodology of reductionist science. The object of study s arbitrarily isolated 
from its natural surroundings, from its relationship with other objects and the 
observer(s). The context (the value framework) so provided determines what 
properties are perceived, and leads to a particular set of beliefs. The Baconian 
programme of domination over nature was centrally based on the controlled 
experiment which was formulated and conceived in the language and metaphor 
of rape, torture and the inquisition. The ‘controlled’ experiment was therefore a 
political choice, aimed at control of nature and exclusion of other ways of 
knowing. It was assumed that the truth of nature was more accessible through 


violence, and it was recognised that this truth is a basis of power. In this way, 
‘human knowledge and human power meet as one’. 26 Sandra Harding has 
characterised this as the contemporary 'alliance of perverse knowledge claims 
with the perversity of dominating power'. 

The knowledge and power nexus is inherent to the reductionist system 
because the mechanistic order, as a conceptual framework, was associated with a 
set of values based on power which were compatible with the needs of 
commercial capitalism. It generates inequalities and domination by the way 
knowledge is generated and structured, the way it is legitimised, and by the way 
in which such knowledge transforms nature and society. The domination of the 
South by the North, of women by men, of nature by westernised man are now 
being identified as being rooted in the domination inherent to the world-view 
created by western man over the last three centuries through which he could 
subj ugate or exclude the rest of humanity on grounds of humanity. As Harding 

We can now discern the effects of these cultural markings in the 
discrepancies between the methods of knowing and the interpretations 
of the world provided by the creators of modern western culture and 
those characteristic of the rest of us. Western culture's favoured beliefs 
mirror in sometimes clear and sometimes distorting ways not the world 
as it is or as we might want it to be, but the social projects of their 
historically identifiable creators. 27 

Exclusion of other traditions of knowledge by reductionist science is 
threefold : (i) ontological, in that other properties are just not taken note of, (ii) 
epistemological, in that other ways of perceiving and knowing are not 
recognized; and (iii) sociological, in that the non-specialist and non-expert is 
deprived of the right both to access to knowledge and to judging claims made on 
its behalf. All this is the stuff of politics, not science. Picking one group of 
people (the specialists), who adopt one way of knowing the physical world (the 
reductionist), to find one set of properties in nature (the mechanistic) is a 
political, not a scientific mode. Knowledge so obtained is presented as 'the laws 
of nature', wholly 1 objective 'and altogether universal. Feyerband is therefore 
right in saying: 'The appearance of objectivity that is attached to some value 
judgements comes from the fact that a particular tradition is used but not 
recognised. Absence of the impression of subjectivity is not proof of objectivity, 
but an oversight,’ The 'controlled' experiment which was assumed to be a mode 


for 'neutral' observation was, in effect, a political tool for exclusion such that 
people's experimentation in their daily lives was denied access to the status of 
the scientific. 

It is argued in defence of modern science that it is not science itself but the 
political misuse and unethical technological application of it that lead to 
violence. The speciousness of this argument was always clear, but it is totally 
untenable today, when science and technology have become cognitively 
inseparable and the amalgam has been incorporated into the scientific military 
industrial complex of capitalist patriarchy. The fragmentation of science into a 
variety of specializations and sub-specializations is used as a smoke-screen to 
blur the perception of this linkage between science and a particular model of 
social organisation, that is, a particular ideology. Science claims that since 
scientific truths are verifiable and neutral, they are justified beliefs and therefore 
universal, regardless of the social context. Yet from the perspective of 
subjugated traditions, the 'truths' of reductionism are falsehoods for the 
subjugated. Why should we regard the emergence of modern science as a great 
advance for humanity when it was achieved only at the cost of a deterioration in 
social status for most of humanity including women and non-western cultures? 
Sandra Harding, locating the culture of destruction and domination in 
science-as-usual, not in bad science, asks, 

Could the uses of science to create ecological disaster, support 
militarism, turn human labour into physically and mentally mutilating 
work, develop ways of controlling 'others' - the colonised, the women, 
the poor - be just misuses of applied science? Or does this kind of 
conceptualisation of the character and puiposes of experimental method 
ensure that what is called bad science or misused science will be a 
distinctively masculinist science as usual? 28 

Modern science and ecological crises 

The supernatural-natural divide. It was not so long ago that most philosophers, 
sociologists and anthropologists, both western and non-western, relegated all 
traditional thought to the realm of the supernatural, the mystical and the 
irrational. Modern science, in contrast, was uniquely posed as natural, material, 
empirical, rational. Scientists, in accordance with an abstract scientific method, 
were viewed as putting forward statements corresponding to the realities of a 
directly observable world. The theoretical concepts in their discourse were in 


principle seen as reducible to directly verifiable observational claims. Of course, 
an elementary investigation into the nature of scientific theories showed that 
such a reduction was not possible and, instead, it was pervasive theoretical 
presuppositions which determined observation and facts. Further, the lack of 
existence of a theoretically neutral observational vocabulary excluded the 
possibility of definite and conclusive verification of theoretical claims. 
Scientific claims, like all others, were slowly recognised as arising not in 
accordance with a verificationist model but from the commitment of a specialist 
community of scientists to presupposed metaphors and paradigms which 
determined the meaning of constituent terms, concepts and the status of 
observation and facts. Meaning and validity were controlled, by the social world 
of scientists and not by the natural world. These new accounts of modern science 
left no criteria to distinguish between the myths of traditional thought and the 
metaphors of modern science, between supernatural entities presupposed by 
traditional communities and theoretical entities presupposed by modem 

Thus, awareness of and familiarity with the theorising and practise of both 
modern science and traditional thought forces a collapse in the distinction 
between the supernatural and natural, the irrational and rational, the social and 
scientific. It removes modem science from its presumed privileged 
epistemological status, and elevates traditional thought to the status of 
ethno- science, because it constitutes legitimate ways of knowing and because 
its claims are expressed in the everyday languages of the people and are influ- 
enced by the structures of their languages. To that extent they are particular to 
each society and its people. However, though theoretical explanation in 
traditional thought is now recognised as being about the natural and not the 
supernatural domain, and is of the same epistemological status as explanation in 
modern scientific thought, its cognitive power is seen as inferior to that of the 
latter. There are, however, a number of problems in holding on to such a 
perspective on the cognitive superiority of modem science while conceding 
epistemological status to traditional and modern belief systems. 

Firstly, as Kuhn 29 has shown, scientists are not in practice typically and 
consistently aware of the existence of alternatives in any case. Science is not 
nearly as open as has been popularly thought. Scientific inquiry does not range 
freely amongst boundless alternatives as the popular image suggests, but at any 
given time is constrained by the currently dominant paradigm. On the other 


hand, one knows so little about traditional beliefs, especially in the diachronic 
perspective, that claims about their stagnation, lack of creativity etc., can only be 
speculation. Thus one cannot legitimately talk of the 'open' and 'closed' 
predicament but merely of rapidly versus slowly changing belief systems. 

Why should more change in thinking per se amount to more rational and 
cognitively superior theorising? Popper's falsificationism seems to identify the 
willingness to give up beliefs with a critical spirit, and hence rapidly changing 
belief systems are viewed as evolving towards more rational and objective 
claims. However, this view of progress-through- revolution again faces 
problems. If, following Kuhn, scientific change is guided by social and political 
factors and not by purely logical and empirical criteria provided by an abstract 
scientific method, it becomes difficult to conceive how change in itself ensures 
progress. Even in Popper's unworldly third world of ideas and knowledge, it is 
therefore not possible to defend the claim that the higher the turnover of beliefs, 
the more rational one's beliefs will be. In the real world, however, where ideas 
and beliefs act as guides to action, and play a transformative as well as an 
interpretive role, too rapid a change in belief systems at times becomes a sign of 
irrationality and irresponsibility rather than rationality and a critical spirit. The 
most glaring example of such irrationality and irresponsibility is the situation of 
contemporary ecological crises. While traditional belief systems did, in rare 
cases, lead to material transformation of the environment that led to ecological 
disasters, in most cases ethno-sciences have proved to be adequate in 
maintaining societies and nature. On the other hand, threatening the conditions 
of natural and human sustenance through human intervention seems to be the 
rule rather than the exception in modern scientific thought and the practise it 
gives rise to, especially in fields dealing with health, food production and food 

The new philosophies of science which have broken down the 
supernatural-natural divide and the society-science dualism, and have 
established epistemological equivalence between ethno science and modern 
science, have however created models which do not allow one to discuss the 
status of beliefs about nature in the materialist perspective of the ecological 
crises. Kuhn's conclusion about nature fitting into the inelastic boxes of 
paradigms leaves no room to introduce those material situations when nature 
boomerangs. His view thus leads to material vacuity. Knowledge about nature 


can be materially assessed only when the dualism separating thought from action 
and belief from practice is broken. 

This materialist criterion allows one to view belief systems as weak when 
the unanticipated and unpredicted change in the material environment is far 
more extensive and intensive than the predicted transformation. When 
antibiotics create super-infection and flood control measures accentuate floods 
and fertilizers rob soil of its fertility, the problem is not merely between use and 
misuse of technology. It is rooted in the very process of knowledge-creation in 
modern science, a process which is increasingly turning out to be more 
preoccupied with the material problems created by intervention through 
scientific beliefs, than material problems posed by nature itself. 

The natural-unnatural divide 

The belief-action and theory-practise unity that provides the unit of assessment 
in a materialist epistemology can be interpreted at two different levels in modern 
science. At the first level, the activity or practise that involves material 
transformation can be restricted to the scientist's practice in his specialised 
environment of a laboratory. This level however does not create conditions in 
which ecological instabilities arising from mistaken beliefs about natural 
processes can be seen. For an ecological evaluation of the materialist adequacy 
of theories it therefore becomes essential to consider a more general level of 
practise in which the material transformation is in the wider natural setting and 
not in the manipulated setting of a laboratory. Quite obviously, certain types of 
scientific theorising do not reach the second level of practise. Examples of this 
are theories in astrophysics or particle physics which, in their contemporary 
state, stop at the material transformation required to create an experimental 
situation and do not spill over into the larger environment. However, such 
theorising is uninteresting in the context of a comparison with ethno-science and 
an evaluation in an ecological perspective, though for a dualist philosophy of 
science restricted to the analysis of ideas alone it is just these fields which are 
most interesting since they are the most advanced in the reductionist-positivist 
scheme of thought. For our task, the scientific theory and practise that is of 
relevance is the type that does have ecological implications and involves 
scientific practise in a wider natural setting. 

There is a third category of knowledge in modem science, which unlike 
particle physics, transcends the material context of the experimental laboratory 


and, unlike knowledge of fields related to health and food and agriculture does 
not create ecological imbalances. Electronics and its background specializations 
are such an example. Such scientific domains are characterised by both the 
levels of practise taking place in materially artificial and man-made 
environments. The artifacts created as part of the transformative activity arising 
from such beliefs do not interfere with natural processes and relationships in 
nature. Though derived from nature, they continue to exist independent of it 
after creation. However, the creation of such artifacts does not replace the 
natural processes ensuring human survival; they merely supplement the natural 
material world and do not provide a substitute for it. What could be a better 
indication of man's continued dependence on nature than the fact that today's 
so-called post-industrial societies satisfy most of their food needs through 
imports from so-called underdeveloped countries? It is in the context of the 
continued central role of nature in human survival that the material inadequacy 
of scientific thought in the ecological perspective becomes essential. 

For those who have internalised linearity in history and nature, 'taking 
guidance from ethno-science will seem like 'going backwards'. For others, who 
see plurality as the stable order for natural ecosystems and human societies, 
being enlightened by ethno-science will amount to returning to the appropriate 
path after having gone astray for a while on the reductionist road. Nature is, after 
all diverse and authentic knowledge of nature should account for this diversity. 
Ethno-sciences are not less reliable because they are pluralistic, and reductionist 
science universalised does not provide a more reliable account of nature because 
it is singular. Objectivity cannot, after all, be equated with a singular 
inappropriate answer that destroys its very object. 

Recent history has shown that in certain areas of human activity a return to 
ecological thought and action is possible and desirable. The primitive practise of 
breast-feeding had been discredited by the advertising and reductionist claims of 
the baby-food industry. The ecology of breast-feeding has, however, become 
appreciated once again, and the 'primitive' practise is enlightened practise today. 
Chemicalisation of health care seemed to be the only way to develop in the 
reductionist paradigm. Work in ethno-medicine is again bringing back 
wholesome drugs and treatment. Sustainable organic farming which created 
'farmers of forty centuries' is on its way back, in all the diversity and plurality of 
its traditional base. Each of these steps towards ecological thought and action 
has been possible because contact was made with an ethno-scientific tradition. If 


the world is to be conserved for survival, the human potential for conservation 
must be conserved first. It is the only resource we have to foresee and forestall 
the destruction of our ecosystems. 

Contemporary women's ecological struggles are new attempts to establish 
that steadiness and stability are not stagnation, and balance with nature's 
essential ecological processes is not technological backwardness but 
technological sophistication. At a time when a quarter of the world's population 
is threatened by starvation due to erosion of soil, water and genetic diversity of 
living resources, chasing the mirage of unending growth, by spreading resource 
destructive technologies, becomes a major source of genocide. The killing of 
people by the murder of nature is an invisible form of violence which is today 
the biggest threat to justice and peace. 

The emerging feminist and ecological critiques of reductionist science 
extend the domain of the testing of scientific beliefs into the wider physical 
world. Socially, the world of scientific experiments and beliefs has to be 
extended beyond the so called experts and specialists into the worrld of all those 
who have systematically been excluded from it - women, peasants, tribals. The 
verification and validation of a scientific system would then be validation in 
practise, where practise and experimentation is real-life activity in society and 
nature. Harding says: 

Neither God nor tradition is privileged with the same credibility as 
scientific rationality in modern cultures. . . The project that science's 
sacredness makes taboo is the examination of science in just the ways 
any other institution or set of social practises can be examined. If we are 
not willing to try and see the favoured intellectual structures and 
practises of science as cultural artifacts rather than as sacred com- 
mandments handed down to humanity at the birth of modern science, 
then it will be hard to understand how gender symbolism, the gendered 
social structure of science, and the masculine identities and behaviours 
of individual scientists have left their marks on the problematics, con- 
cepts, theories, methods, interpretation, ethics, meanings and goals of 



The intellectual recovery of the feminine principle creates new conditions 
for women and non-western cultures to become principal actors in establishing a 
democracy of all life, as countervailing forces to the intellectual culture of death 
and dispensability that reductionism creates. 


Ecology movements are political movements for a non-violent world order 
in which nature is conserved for conserving the options for survival. These 
movements are small, but they are growing. They are local, but their success lies 
in non-local impact. They demand only the right to survival yet with that 
minimal demand is associated the right to live in a peaceful and just world. With 
the success of these grassroots movements is linked the global issue of survival. 
Unless the world is restructured ecologically at the level of world-views and 
life-styles, peace and justice will continue to be violated and ultimately the very 
survival of humanity will be threatened. 


1 Susan Harding, The Science Question in Feminism, Ithaca: Cornell 
University Press, 1986, p. 8. 

2 "Evelyn F. Keller, Reflections on Gender and Science, New Haven: Yale 
University Press, 1985, p. 7. 

3 F.H. Anderson, (ed.), Francis Bacon:. The New Organon and Related 
Writings, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1960, p. 25. 

4 J. Spedding, et. at (eds.) The works of Francis Bacon (Reprinted), Stuttgart: 
F.F Verlag, 1963, Vol. V, p. 506. 

5 Quoted in Keller, op. cit., pp. 38-39. 

6 Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature : Women, Ecology and the 
Scientific Revolution, New York: Harper & Row, 1980, p. 182. 

7 Merchant, op. cit., p. 193. 

8 Brian Easlea, Science and Sexual Oppression: Patriarchy's Confrontation 
with Woman and Nature, London: weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1981, p. 64. 

9 Merchant, op. cit, p. 172. 

10 Easlea, op. cit., p. 70. 

1 1 Easlea, op. cit., p. 70. 

12 Merchant, op. cit., p. 189. 

13 Easlea, op. cit., p. 73. 

14 Easlea, op. cit, p, 73. 


15 J.P.S. Oberoi, The Other Mind of Europe: Goethe as a Scientist, Delhi: 
Oxford University Press, 1984. 

16 Keller, op. cit., p. 48. 

17 Merchant, op. cit., p. 104. 

18 Oberoi, op. cit., p. 21. 

19 Keller, op. cit, p. 60. 

20 Quoted in murielJ. Hughes, Women Healers in Medieval Life and 
Literature, New York: Libraries Press, 1968, p. 86. 

21 merchant, op. cit, p.xvii. 

22 J. Bandyopadhyay & V Shiva, 'Ecological Sciences: A Response to 
Ecological Crises'in J. Bandy opadliyay, et al., India's Environment, 
Debradun: Natraj, 1985, p 196; and J. Bandyopadhyay & V. Shiva, 
'Environmental Conflicts and Public Interest Science, 'in Economic and 
Political WeeklyVol. XXI, No. 2Jan. 11, 1986, pp. 84-90. 

23 Paul Feyerband, Science in a Free Society: New Left Books, 1978, p. 10. 

24 Merchant, op. cit., p. 2. 

25 Descartes, A Discourse on Method, London: Everymans, 1981, p. Xv. 

26 Quoted in Merchant, op. cit., p. 171. 

27 Harding, op. cit., p. 15. 

28 Harding, op. cit., p. 102, 

29 T. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution, Chicago: University of 
Chicago Press, 1972. 

30 Harding, op. cit, p. 30. 


3. Women in Nature 

Nature as the feminine principle 

Women in India are an intimate part of nature, both in imagination and in 
practise. At, one level nature is symbolised as the embodiment of the feminine 
principle, and at another, she is nurtured by the feminine to produce life and 
provide sustenance. 

From the point of view of Indian cosmology, in both the exoteric and 
esoteric traditions, the world is produced and renewed by the dialectical play of 
creation and destruction, cohesion and disintegration. The tension between the 
opposites from which motion and movement arises is depicted as the first 
appearance of dynamic energy (Shakti). All existence arises from this primordial 
energy which is the substance of everything, pervading everything. The 
manifestation of this power, this energy, is called nature (Prakriti). 1 Nature, both 
animate and inanimate, is thus an expression of Shakti, the feminine and creative 
principle of the cosmos; in conjunction with the masculine principle (Purusha), 
Prakriti creates the world. 

Nature as Prakriti is inherently active, a powerful, productive force in the 
dialectic of the creation, renewal and sustenance of all life. In Kulacudamim 
Nigama, Prakriti says: 

There is none but Myself 
Who is the Mother to create . 2 

Without Shakti, Shiva, the symbol for the force of creation and destruction, is as 
powerless as a coipse. ‘The quiescent aspect of Shiva is, by definition, inert . . . 
Activity is the nature of Nature (Prakriti).' 3 


Prakriti is worshipped as Aditi, the primordial vastness, the inexhaustible, 
the source of abundance. She is worshipped as Adi Shakti, the primordial power. 
All the forms of nature and life in nature are the forms, the children, of the 
Mother of Nature who is nature itself born of the creative play of her thought. 4 
Hence Prakriti is also called Lalitha, 5 the Player because lila or play, as free 
spontaneous activity, is her nature. The will-to-become many (Bahu— 
Syam-Prajayera) is her creative impulse and through this impulse, she creates 
the diversity of living forms in nature. The common yet multiple life of 
mountains, trees, rivers, animals is an expression of the diversity that Prakriti 
gives rise to. The creative force and the created world are not separate and 
distinct, nor is the created world uniform, static and fragmented. It is diverse, 
dynamic and inter-related. 

The nature of Nature as Prakriti is activity and diversity. Nature symbols 
from every realm of nature are in a sense signed with the image of Nature. 
Prakriti lives in stone or tree, pool, fruit or animal, and is identified with them. 
According to the Kalika Parana: 

Rivers and mountains have a dual nature. A river is but a form of water, 
yet is has a distinct body. Mountains appear a motionless mass, yet their 
true form is not such. We cannot know, when looking at a lifeless shell, 
that it contains a living being. Similarly, within the apparently inanimate 
rivers and mountains there dwells a hidden consciousness. Rivers and 
mountains take the forms they wish. 6 

The living, nurturing relationship between man and nature here differs 
dramatically from the notion of man as separate from and dominating over 
nature. A good illustration of this difference is the daily worship of the sacred 
tulsi within Indian culture and outside it. Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) is a little herb 
planted in every home, and worshipped daily. It has been used in Ayurveda for 
more than 3000 years, and is now also being legitimised as a source of diverse 
healing powers by western medicine. However, all this is incidental to its 
worship. The tulsi is sacred not merely as a plant with beneficial properties but 
as Brindavan, the symbol of the cosmos, in their daily watering and worship 
women renew the relationship of the home with the cosmos and With the world 
process. Nature as a creative expression of the feminine principle is both in 
ontological continuity with humans as well as above them. Ontologically, there 
is no divide between man and nature, or between man and woman, because life 
in all its forms arises from the feminine principle. 


Contemporary western views of nature are fraught with the dichotomy or 
duality between man and woman, and person and nature. In Indian cosmology, 
by contrast, person and nature (Purusha-Prakriti) are a duality in unity. They are 
inseparable complements of one another in nature, in woman, in man. Every 
form of creation bears the sign of this dialectical unity, of diversity within a 
unifying principle, and this dialectical harmony between the male and female 
principles and between nature and man, becomes the basis of ecological thought 
and action in India. Since, ontologically, there is no dualism between man and 
nature and because nature as Prakriti sustains life, nature has been treated as 
integral and inviolable. Prakriti, far from being an esoteric abstraction, is an 
everyday concept which organises daily life. There is no separation here 
between the popular and elite imagery or between the sacred and secular 
traditions. As an embodiment and manifestation of the feminine principle it is 
characterised by ( a ) creativity, activity, productivity; (b) diversity in form and 
aspect; (c) connectedness and inter-relationship of all beings, including man; ( d ) 
continuity between the human and natural; and ( e ) sanctity of life in nature. 

Conceptually, this differs radically from the Cartesian concept as 
'environment' or a 'resource'. In it, the environment is seen as separate from man: 
it is his surrounding, not his substance. The dualism between man and nature has 
allowed the subjugation of the latter by man and given rise to a new world-view 
in which nature is ( a ) inert and passive; (b) uniform and mechanistic; (c) 
separable and fragmented within itself; (d) separate from man; and (e) inferior, 
to be dominated and exploited by man. 

The rupture within nature and between man and nature, and its associated 
transformation from a life -force that sustains to an exploitable resource 
characterises the Cartesian view which has displaced more ecological 
world-views and created a development paradigm which cripples nature and 
woman simultaneously. 

The ontological shift for an ecologically sustainable future has much to gain 
from the world-views of ancient civilisations and diverse cultures which 
survived sustainably over centuries. These were based on an ontology of the 
feminine as the living principle, and on an ontological continuity between 
society and nature -the humanisation of nature and the naturalisation of society. 
Not merely did this result in an ethical context which excluded possibilities of 
exploitation and domination, it allowed the creation of an earth family. 


The dichotomised ontology of man dominating woman and nature generates 
maldevelopment because it makes the colonising male the agent and model of 
'development'. Women, the Third World and nature become underdeveloped, 
first by definition, and then, through the process of colonisation, in reality. 

The ontology of dichotomisation generates an ontology of domination, over 
nature and people. Epistemologically, it leads to reductionism and 
fragmentation, thus violating women as subjects and nature as an object of 
knowledge. This violation becomes a source of epistemic and real violence - 1 
would like to interpret ecological crises at both levels - as a disruption of 
ecological perceptions of nature. 

Ecological ways of knowing nature are necessarily participatory. Nature 
herself is the experiment and women, as sylviculturalists, agriculturists and 
water resource managers, the traditional natural scientists. Their knowledge is 
ecological and plural, reflecting both the diversity of natural ecosystems and the 
diversity in cultures that nature -based living gives rise to. Throughout the world, 
the colonisation of diverse peoples was, at its root, a forced subjugation of 
ecological concepts of nature and of the Earth as the repository of all forms, 
latencies and powers of creation, the ground and cause of the world. The 
symbolism of Terra Mater, the earth in the form of the Great Mother, creative 
and protective, has been a shared but diverse symbol across space and time, and 
ecology movements in the West today are inspired in large part by the recovery 
of the concept of Gaia, the earth goddess. 7 

The shift from Prakriti to 'natural re sources', from Mater to 'matter’ was 
considered (and in many quarters is still considered) a progressive shift from 
superstition to rationality. Yet, viewed from the perspective of nature, or women 
embedded in nature, in the production and preservation of sustenance, the shift is 
regressive and violent. It entails the disruption of nature's processes and cycles, 
and her inter-connectedness. For women, whose productivity in the sustaining of 
life is based on nature's productivity, the, death of Prakriti is simultaneously a 
beginning of their marginalisation, devaluation, displacement and ultimate 
dispensability. The ecological crisis is, at its root, the death of the feminine 
principle, symbolically as well as in contexts such as rural India, not merely in 
form and symbol, but also in the everyday processes of survival and sustenance. 

Nature and women as producers of life 


With the violation of nature is linked the violation and marginalisation of 
women, especially in the Third World. Women produce and reproduce life not 
merely biologically, but also through their social role in providing sustenance. 
All ecological societies of forest-dwellers and peasants, whose life is organised 
on the principle of sustainability and the reproduction of life in all its richness, 
also embody the feminine principle. Historically, however, when such societies 
have been colonised and broken up the men have usually started to participate in 
life -destroying activities or have had to migrate; the women meanwhile, usually 
continue to be linked to life and nature through their role as providers to 
sustenance, food and water. The privileged access of women to the sustaining 
principle thus has a historical and cultural, and not merely biological, basis. The 
principle of creating and conserving life is lost to the ecologically alienated, 
consumerist elite women of the Third World and the over-consuming west, just 
as much as it 'is conserved in the lifestyle of the male and female forest-dwellers 
and peasants in small pockets of the Third World. 

Maria Mies has called women's work in producing sustenance the 
production of life and views it as a truly productive relationship to nature, 
because 'women not only collected and consumed what grew in nature but they 
made things grow .' 8 This organic process of growth in which women and nature 
work in partnership with each other has created a special relationship of women 
with nature, which, following Mies, can be summarised as follows: 

(a) Their interaction with nature, with their own nature as well as the 
external environment, was a reciprocal process. They conceived of 
their own bodies as being productive in the same way as they 
conceived of external nature being so. 

(b) Although they appropriate nature, their appropriation does not 
constitute a relationship of dominance or a property relation. Women 
are not owners of their own bodies or of the earth, but they co-operate 
with their bodies and with the earth in order 'to let grow and to make 

(c) As producers of new life they also became the first subsistence 
producers and the inventors of the first productive economy, implying 
from the beginning social production and the creation of social 
relations, i.e. of society and history. 

Productivity, viewed from the perspective of survival, differs sharply from the 
dominant view of the productivity of labour as defined for processes of capital 


accumulation. 'Productive' man. producing commodities, using some of nature's 
wealth and women's work as raw material and dispensing with the rest as waste, 
becomes the only legitimate category of work, wealth and production. Nature 
and women working to produce and reproduce life are declared 'unproductive'. 

With Adam Smith, the wealth created by nature and women’s work was 
turned invisible. Labour, and especially male labour, became the fund which 
originally supplies it with all the necessities and conveniences of life. As this 
assumption spread to all human communities, it introduced dualities within 
society, and between nature and man. No more was nature a Source of wealth 
and sustenance; no more was women's work in sustenance 'productive' work; no 
more were peasant and tribal societies creative and productive. They were all 
marginal to the framework of the industrial society, except as resources and 
inputs. The transforming, productive power was associated only with male 
western labour and economic development became a design of remodelling the 
world on that assumption. The devaluation and de-recognition of nature's work 
and productivity has led to the ecological crises; the devaluation and 
de-recognition of women's work has created sexism and inequality between men 
and women. The devaluation of subsistence, or rather sustenance economies, 
based on harmony between nature's work, women's work and man's work has 
created the various forms of ethnic and cultural crises that plague our world 

The crisis of survival and the threat to sustenance arises from ecological 
disruption that is rooted in the arrogance of the west and those that ape it. This 
arrogance is grounded in a blindness towards the quiet work and the invisible 
wealth created by nature and women and those who produce sustenance. Such 
work and wealth are 'invisible' because they are decentred, local and in harmony 
with local ecosystems and needs. The more effectively the cycles of life, as 
essential ecological processes, are maintained, the more invisible they become. 
Disruption is violent and visible; balance and harmony are experienced, not 
seen. The premium on visibility placed by patriarchal maldevelopment forces 
the destruction of invisible energies and the work of women and nature, and the 
creation of spectacular, centralised work and wealth. Such centralisation and the 
uniformity associated with it works further against the diversity and plurality of 
life. Work and wealth in accordance with the feminine principle are significant 
precisely because they are rooted in stability and sustainability. Decentred 
diversity is the source of nature's work and women's productivity; it is the work 


of 'insignificant' plants in creating significant changes which shift the ecological 
equilibrium in life's favour. It is the energy of all living things, in all their 
diversity, and together, the diversity of lives wields tremendous energy. 
Women's work is similarly invisible in providing sustenance and creating wealth 
for basic needs. Their work in the forest, the field and the river creates 
sustenance in quiet but essential ways. Every woman in every house in every 
village of rural India works invisibly to provide the stuff of life to nature and 
people. It is this invisible work that is linked to nature and needs, which 
conserves nature through maintaining ecological cycles, and conserves human 
life through satisfying the basic needs of food, nutrition and water. It is this 
essential work that is destroyed and dispensed with by maldevelopment: the 
maintenance of ecological cycles has no place in a political economy of 
commodity and cash flows. 

The existence of the feminine principle is linked with diversity and sharing. 
Its destruction through homogenisation and privatisation leads to the destruction 
of diversity and of the commons. The sustenance economy is based on a creative 
and organic nature, on local knowledge, on locally recycled inputs that maintain 
the integrity of nature, on local consumption for local needs, and on the 
marketing of surplus beyond the imperatives of equity and ecology. The 
commodity and cash economy destroys natural cycles and reduces nature to raw 
materials and commodities. It creates the need for purchase and sale to 
centralised inputs and commodity markets. When production is specialised and 
for export, surplus becomes a myth. There is only indebtedness, of peoples and 
nations. The debt trap is part of global commodity production and sale which 
destroys nurturing nature and nurturing economies in the name of development. 

Sustenance, in the final analysis, is built on the continued capacity of nature 
to renew its forests, fields and rivers. These resource systems are intrinsically 
linked in life -producing and life conserving cultures, and it is in managing the 
integrity of ecological cycles in forestry and agriculture that women’s 
productivity has been most developed and evolved. Women transfer fertility 
from the forests to the field and to animals. They transfer animal waste as 
fertilizer for crops and crop by-products to animals as fodder. They work with 
the forest to bring water to their fields and families. This partnership between 
women's and nature's work ensures the sustainability of sustenance, and it is this 
critical partnership that is tom asunder where the project of 'development' 
becomes a patriarchal project, threatening both nature and women. The forest is 


separated from the river, the field is separated from the forest, the animals are 
separated from the crops. Each is then separately developed, and the delicate 
balance which ensures sustainability and equity is destroyed. The visibility of 
dramatic breaks and ruptures is posited as 'progress'. Marginalised women are 
either dispensed with or colonised. Needs go unfulfilled, nature is crippled. The 
drama of violence and fragmentation cannot be sustained and the recovery of the 
feminine principle thus becomes essential for liberating not only women and 
nature, but also the patriarchal reductionist categories which give rise to 

The revolutionary and liberational potential of the recovery of the feminine 
principle consists in its challenging the concepts, categories and processes which 
have created the threat to life, and in providing oppositional categories that 
create and enlarge the spaces for maintaining and enriching all life in nature and 
society. The radical shift induced by a focus on the feminine principle is the 
recognition of maldevelopment as a culture of destruction. The feminine 
principle becomes a category of challenge which locates nature and women as 
the source of life and wealth, and as such, active subjects, maintaining and 
creating life -processes. 

There are two implications that arise from the recognition of nature and 
women as producers of life. First, that what goes by the name of development is 
a maldevelopment process, a source of violence, to women and nature 
throughout the world. This violence does not arise from the misapplication of an 
otherwise benign and gender-neutral model, but is rooted in the patriarchal 
assumptions of homogeneity, domination and centralisation that underlie dom- 
inant models of thought and development strategies. Second, that the crises that 
the maldevelopment model has given rise to cannot be solved within the 
paradigm of the crisis mind. Their solution lies in the categories of thought, 
perception and action that are life-giving and life-maintaining. In contemporary 
times, Third World women, whose minds have not yet been dispossessed or 
colonised, are in a privileged position to make visible the invisible oppositional 
categories that they are the custodians of. It is not only as victims, but also as 
leaders in creating new intellectual ecological paradigms, that women are central 
to arresting and overcoming ecological crises. Just as ecological recovery begins 
from centres of natural diversity which are gene pools, Third World women, and 
those tribals and peasants who have been left out of the processes of 
maldevelopment, are today acting as the intellectual gene pools of ecological 


categories of thought and action. Marginalisation has thus become a source for 
healing the diseased mainstream of patriarchal development. Those facing the 
biggest threat offer the best promise for survival because they have two kinds of 
knowledge that are not accessible to dominant and privileged groups. First, they 
have the knowledge of what it means to be the victims of progress, to be the ones 
who bear the costs and burdens. Second, they have the holistic and ecological 
knowledge of what the production and protection of life is about. They retain the 
ability to see nature’s life as a precondition for human survival and the integrity 
of inter-connectedness in nature as a precondition for life. Women of the Third 
World have been dispossessed of their base for sustenance, but not of their 
minds, and in their uncolonised minds are conserved the oppositional categories 
that make the sustenance of life possible for all. The producers of life alone can 
be its real protectors. Women embedded in nature, producing life with nature, 
are therefore taking the initiative in the recovery of nature. 

To say that women and nature are intimately associated is not to say 
anything revolutionary. After all, it was precisely just such an assumption that 
allowed the domination of both women and nature. The new insight provided by 
rural women in the Third World is that women and nature are associated not in 
passivity but in creativity and in the maintenance of life. 

This analysis differs from most conventional analyses of environmentalists 
and feminists. Most work on women and environment in the Third World has 
focussed on women as special victims of environmental degradation. Yet the 
women who participate in and lead ecology movements in countries like India 
are not speaking merely as victims. Their voices are the voices of liberation and 
transformation which provide new categories of thought and new exploratory 
directions. In this sense, this study is a postvictimology study. It is an 
articulation of the categories of challenge that women in ecology movements are 
creating in the Third World. The women and environment issue can be 
approached either from these categories of challenge that have been thrown up 
by women in the struggle for life, or it can be approached through an extension 
of conventional categories of patriarchy and reductionism. In the perspective of 
women engaged in survival struggles which are, simultaneously, struggles for 
the protection of nature, women and nature are intimately related, and their 
domination and liberation similarly linked. The women's and ecology move- 
ments are therefore one, and are primarily counter-trends to a patriarchal 
maldevelopment. Our experience shows that ecology and feminism can combine 


in the recovery of the feminine principle, and through this recovery, can 
intellectually and politically restructure and transform maldevelopment. 

Maldevelopment is seen here as a process by which human society 
marginalises the play of the feminine principle in nature and in society. 
Ecological breakdown and social inequality are intrinsically related to the 
dominant development paradigm which puts man against and above nature and 
women. The underlying assumptions of dialectical unity and cyclical recovery 
shared by the common concern for the liberation of nature and of women, con- 
trast deeply with the dominant western patriarchal assumptions of duality in 
existence and linearity in process. Within the western paradigm, the 
environmental movement is separate from the women's movement. As long as 
this paradigm with its assumptions of linear progress prevails, 
'environmentalism' and 'feminism' independently ask only for concessions 
within maldevelopment, because in the absence of oppositional categories, that 
is the only 'development' that is conceivable. Environmentalism then becomes a 
new patriarchal project of technological fixes and political oppression. It 
generates a new subjugation of ecological movements and fails to make any 
progress towards sustainability and equity. While including a few women as 
tokens in 'women and environment', it excludes the feminine visions of survival 
that women have conserved. Fragmented feminism, in a similar way, finds itself 
trapped in a gender-based ideology of liberation -taking off from either the 
'catching-up-with-men' syndrome (on the grounds that the masculine is superior 
and developed), or receding into a narrow biologism which accepts the feminine 
as gendered, and excludes the possibility of the recovery of the feminine 
principle in nature and women, as well as men. 

Gender-ideology vs. the recovery of the feminine principle 

We see the categories of 'masculine' and 'feminine' as socially and culturally 
constructed. A gender-based ideology projects these categories as biologically 
determined. The western concept of masculinity that has dominated 
development and gender relations has excluded all that has been defined by 
culture as feminine and has legitimised control over all that counts as such. The 
category of masculinity as a socially constructed product of gender ideology is 
associated with the creation of the concept of woman as the 'other'. In this 
asymmetrical relationship, femininity is ideologically constructed as everything 


that is not masculine and must be subjected to domination. There are two 
gender-based responses to the process of domination and asymmetry. The first, 
represented by Simone de Beauvoir, is based on the acceptance of feminine and 
masculine as biologically established, and the status of women as the second sex 
as similarly determined. Women's liberation is prescribed as the masculinisation 
of the female. The emancipation of the 'second sex' lies in its modelling itself on 
the first; women's freedom consists in freedom from biology, from 'bondage to 
life's mysterious processes'. 9 It consists of women 'battling against the elements', 
and becoming masculine. The liberation that de Beauvoir conceives of is a world 
in which the masculine is accepted as superior and women are free to assume 
masculine values. The process of liberation is thus a masculinisation of the 
world defined within the categories created by gender-based ideology. 

De Beauvoir accepts the patriarchal categorisation of women as passive, 
weak and unproductive. 'In no domain whatever did she create'; she simply 
'submitted passively to her biologic fate', while men fought. The 'worst that was 
laid upon woman was that she should be excluded from these warlike forays. For 
it is not in giving life, but in risking life, that man is raised above the animal. 
That is why superiority has been accorded in humanity not to the sex that brings 
forth life but to that which kills.' 10 De Beauvoir subscribes to the myth of 
man-the-hunter as a superior being. She believes that instead of being the 
providers in hunting-gathering societies, women were a liability to the group 
because 'closely spaced births must have absorbed most of their strength and 
time so that they were incapable of providing for the children they brought into 
the world'. 1 1 

That traditional and tribal women, without access to modem contraception, 
could not regulate the number of their children and the number of births is 
turning out to be a commonly accepted patriarchal myth. Similarly, the myth of 
female passivity and masculine creativity has been critically analysed by recent 
feminist scholarship, which shows that the survival of mankind has been due 
much more to 'woman-the-gatherer' than to 'man-the-hunter'. Lee and de Vote 
have shown empirically how even among existing hunters and gatherers, women 
provide up to 80 per cent of the daily food, whereas men contribute only a small 
portion by hunting. Elizabeth Fisher's studies indicate that gathering of 
vegetable food was more important for our early ancestors than hunting. 12 
Inspite of this, the myth persists that man-the-hunter as the inventor of tools was 
the provider of basic needs and the protector of society. Evelyn Reed shows how 


sexism has been the underlying ideology of much work that passes as neutral, 
unbiased science, and has been the cause for much of the violence and 
destruction in history . 13 Finally, Maria Mies has argued that the relationship of 
man-the-hunter with nature was necessarily violent, destructive and predatory, 
in sharp contrast to the relationship that woman the-gatherer or cultivator had. 
Humanity, quite clearly, could not have survived if man-the -hunter's 
productivity had been the basis for the daily subsistence of early societies. Their 
survival was based on the fact that this activity was only a small part of 
sustenance. Yet patriarchal ideology has made man-the-hunter the model of 
human evolution, and has thus adopted violence and domination as its structural 
component. Hunting, per se, need not be violent; most tribal societies apologise 
to the animals they have to kill, and their hunting is constrained by nature's 
cycles of production and reproduction. It is the elevation of the hunting to the 
level of ideology, that has laid the foundation of a violent relationship with 
nature. As Mies points out, the patriarchal myth of man-the-hunter implies the 
following levels of violence in man's relationship with nature: 

(a) The hunters' main tools are not instruments with which to produce 
life but to destroy it. Their tools are not basically means of 
production but of destruction, and can also be used as means of 
coercion against fellow human beings. 

(b) This gives hunters a power over living beings, both animal and 
human, which does not arise out of their own productive work. They 
can appropriate not only fruits and plants (like the gatherers) and 
animals, but also other (female) producers by virtue of arms. 

(c) The objective relationship mediated through arms, therefore, is 
basically a predatory or exploitative one: hunters appropriate life, 
but they cannot produce life, it is an antagonistic and non-reciprocal 
relationship. All later exploitative relations between production and 
appropriation are, in the last analysis, upheld by arms as means of 

(d) The objective relationship to nature mediated through arms 
constitutes a relationship of dominance and not of co-operation 
between hunter and nature. This relationship of dominance has 
become an integral element of all further production relations 
established by men. It has become, in fact, the main paradigm of 


their productivity. Without dominance and control over nature, men 
cannot conceive of themselves as being productive. 

(e) 'Appropriation of natural substances' (Marx) now also becomes a 
process of one-sided appropriation, of establishing property 
relations, not in the sense of humanisation, but of exploitation of 
nature . 14 

Mies concludes that while the patriarchal paradigm has made man-the -hunter an 
exemplar of human productivity, he is 'basically a parasite - not a producer'. 
With the reversal of categories, made possible by focussing on the production of 
life, the masculinisation of the feminine is no longer a viable option for 

Herbert Marcuse sees liberation as a feminisation of the world: 'Inasmuch as 
the male principle has been the ruling mental and physical force, a free society 
would be the "definite negation" of this principle - it would be a female 
society .’ 15 While Marcuse opposes de Beauvoir's model, both share the 
assumptions of feminine and masculine as natural, biologically defined traits 
which have an independent existence, and both respond to patriarchy's gender 
ideology with categories that have been created by that ideology. Marcuse 
states: 'Beneath the social factors which determine male aggressiveness and 
female receptivity, a natural contrast exists; it is the woman who "embodies" in 
a literal sense, the promise of peace, of joy, of the end of violence. Tenderness, 
receptivity, sensuousness have become features (or mutilated features) of her 
body - features of her (repressed) humanity .’ 16 

Gender ideology has created the dualism and disjunction between male and 
female. Simultaneously it has created a conjunction of activity and creativity 
with violence and the masculine, and a conjunction of passivity with 
non-violence and the feminine. Gender-based responses to this dualism have 
retained these conjunctions and disjunctions, and within these dichotomised 
categories, have prescribed either the masculinisation or ferminisation of the 

There is, however, a third concept and process of liberation that is 
trans-gender. It is based on the recognition that masculine and feminine as 
gendered concepts based on exclusiveness are ideologically defined categories, 
as is the association of violence and activity with the former, and non-violence 
and passivity with the latter. Rajni Kothari has observed, 'The feminist input 
serves not just women but also men. There is no limiting relationship between 


feminist values and being a woman .' 17 In this non-gender based philosophy the 
feminine principle is not exclusively embodied in women, but is the principle of 
activity and creativity in nature, women and men. One cannot really distinguish 
the masculine from the feminine, person from nature, Purusha from Prakriti. 
Though distinct, they remain inseparable in dialectical unity, as two aspects of 
one being. The recovery of the feminine principle is thus associated with the 
non-patriarchal, non-gendered category of creative non-violence, or 'creative 
power in peaceful form', as Tagore stated in his prayer to the free. 

It is this conceptual framework within which this book, and the experiences 
and struggles discussed in it are located. This perspective can recover humanity 
not in its distorted form of the victim and oppressor, but by creating a new 
wholeness in both that transcends gender because gender identity is, in any case, 
an ideological, social and political construct. 

The recovery of the feminine principle is a response to multiple dominations 
and deprivations not just of women, but also of nature and non-western cultures. 
It stands for ecological recovery and nature's liberation, for women's liberation 
and for the liberation of men who, in dominating nature and women, have 
sacrificed their own human-ness. Ashis Nandy says, one must choose the slave's 
standpoint not only because the slave is oppressed but also because he represents 
a higher-order cognition which perforce includes the master as a human, 
whereas the master's cognition has to exclude the slave except as a 'thing '. 18 
Liberation must therefore begin from the colonised and end with the coloniser. 
As Gandhi was to so clearly formulate through his own life, freedom is 
indivisible, not only in the popular sense that the oppressed of the world are one, 
but also in the unpopular sense that the oppressor, too, is caught in the culture of 

The recovery of the feminine principle is based on inclusiveness. It is a 
recovery in nature, woman and man of creative forms of being and perceiving. In 
nature it implies seeing nature as a live organism. In woman it implies seeing 
women as productive and active. Finally, in men the recovery of the feminine 
principle implies a relocation of action and activity to create life-enhancing, not 
life -reducing and life-threatening societies. 

The death of the feminine principle in women and nature takes place through 
the association of the category of passivity with the feminine. The death of the 
feminine principle in men takes place by a shift in the concept of activity from 
creation to destruction, and the concept of power from empowerment to 


domination. Selfgenerated, non-violent, creative activity as the feminine 
principle dies simultaneously in women, men and nature when violence and 
aggression become the masculine model of activity, and women and nature are 
turned into passive objects of violence. The problem with a gender-based 
response to a gender-based ideology is that it treats ideologically constructed 
gender categorisation as given by nature. It treats passive non-violence as 
biological givens in women, and violence as a biological given in men, when 
both non-violence and violence are socially constructed and need have no 
gender association. Gandhi, the modern world's leading practitioner and 
preacher of non-violence was, after all, a man. The historical creation of a 
gender divide by a gender ideology cannot be the basis of gender liberation. And 
a gender-based ideology remains totally inadequate in either responding to the 
ecological crisis created by patriarchal and violent modes of relating to nature, or 
in understanding how Third World women are leading ecological struggles 
based on values of conservation which are immediately generalised as the 
concern for entire communities and regions, and even humanity as a whole. 


1 'Prakriti' is a popular category, and one through which ordinary women in 
rural India relate to nature. It is also a highly evolved philosophical category 
in Indian cosmology. Even those philosophical streams of Indian thought 
which were patriarchal and did not give the supreme place to divinity as a 
woman, a mother, were permeated by the prehistoric cults and the living 
'little' traditions of nature as the primordial mother goddess. 

2 For an elaboration of the concept of the feminine principle in Indian thought 
see Alain Danielon, The Gods of India, New York: Inner Traditions 
International Ltd., 1985; SirJohn Woodroffe, The Serpent Power, Madras: 
Ganesh and Co., 1931; and Sir John Woodroffe, Shakti and Shakta, London: 
Luzaz and Co., 1929. 

3 Woodroffe, op. cir, (1931), p 27. 

4 W.C. Beane, Myth, Cult and Symbols in Sakta Hinduism: A Study of the 
Indian Mother Goddess, Leiden: Ej. Brill, 1977. 

5 Lalitba Sabasranama, (Reprint), Delhi: Giani Publishing House, 1986. 

6 Kalika Parana, 22-10-13, Bombay: Venkateshwara Press, 1927. 

7 Erich Neumann, The Great Mother, New York: Pantheon Books, 1955. 


8 Maria Mies, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, London: Zed 
Books, 1986, pp. 16-17, 55. 

9 Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex London: Penguin Books, 1972. 

10 de Beauvoir, op. cit., pp. 95-96. 

1 1 Ibid, p. 87. 

12 Quoted in Elizabeth Fisher, Woman 's Creation , New York: Anchor Press, 
1979, p. 48. 

13 E. Reed, Sexism and Science, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1978. 

14 Maria Mies, op. cit, p. 62. 

15 Herbert Marcuse, Counter-revolution and Revolt, New York: Allen Lane, 
1974, pp. 74-75. 

16 Marcuse, op. cit., p. 77. 

17 Rajni Kothari, Lokayan's Efforts to Overcome the New Rift', 1FDA Dossier, 
Vol. 52, March-April 1986, p. 9. 

18 Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1986, 


4. Women in the Forest 

Aranyani: the forest as the feminine principle 

Forests have always been central to Indian civilization. They have been 
worshipped as Aranyani, the Goddess of the Forest, the primary source of life 
and fertility, and the forest as a community has been viewed as a model for 
societal and civilizational evolution. The diversity, harmony and self-sustaining 
nature of the forest formed the organisational principles guiding Indian 
civilization; the arcmya samskriti (roughly translatable as 'the culture of the 
forest' or 'forest culture') was not a condition of primitiveness, but one of 
conscious choice. According to Rabindranath Tagore the distinctiveness of 
Indian culture consists of its having defined life in the forest as the highest form 
of cultural evolution in Tapovan, he writes: 

Contemporary western civilization is built of brick and wood. It is 
rooted in the city. But Indian civilization has been distinctive in locating 
its source of regeneration, material and intellectual, in the forest, not the 
city. India’s best ideas have come where man was in communion with 
trees and rivers and lakes, away from the crowds. The peace of the forest 
has helped the intellectual evolution of man. The culture of the forest 
has fuelled the culture of Indian society. The culture that has arisen from 
the forest has been influenced by the diverse processes of renewal of life 
which are always at play in the forest, varying from species to species, 
from season to season, in sight and sound and smell. The unifying 
principle of life in diversity, of democratic pluralism, thus became the 
principle of Indian civilization. 

Not being caged in brick, wood and iron, Indian thinkers were 
surrounded by and linked to the life of the forest. The living forest was 


for them their shelter, their source of food. The intimate relationship 
between human life and living nature became the source of knowledge. 
Nature was not dead and inert in this knowledge system. The experience 
of life in the forest made it adequately clear that living nature was the 
source of light and air, of food and water. 1 
As a source of life nature was venerated as sacred and human evolution was 
measured in terms of man's capacity to merge with her rhythms and patterns 
intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. The forest thus nurtured an ecological 
civilization in the most fundamental sense of harmony with nature. Such 
knowledge that came from participation in the life of the forest was the 
substance not just of the Aranyakas or forest texts, but also of the everyday 
beliefs of tribal and peasant society. The forest as the highest expression of the 
earth's fertility and productivity is symbolised in yet another form as the Earth 
Mother, 2 as Vana Durga or the Tree Goddess in Bengal she is associated with the 
sheora tree ( Tropbis aspera), and with the sal (Shorea robusta) and asvathha 
(Ficus religiosa). In Comilla she is Bamani, in Assam she is Rupeswari. In folk 
and tribal cultures especially, trees and forests are also worshipped as Vana 
Devatas or forest deities. 

The sacred tree serves as an image of the cosmos, a symbol of the 
inexhaustible source of cosmic fertility. The Earth Mother as the primordial 
Mother says: 

0 ye gods, 1 shall support (i.e. nourish) the whole world with 
life-sustaining vegetables which shall grow out of my body, during a 
period of heavy rain. I shall gain fame on earth then as Shakhambari 
(goddess who feeds the herbs), and in that very period, 1 shall slay the 
great asura named Durgama (a personification of drought). 

Devimahatmya 90:43-44 . 3 

Sacred forests and sacred groves were created and maintained throughout India 
as a cultural response for their protection. As Pant reports for the Himalaya: 

A natural system of conservancy was in vogue; almost every hill-top is 
dedicated to some local deity and the trees on or about the spot are 
regarded with great respect so that nobody dare touch them. There is 
also a general impression among the people that everyone cutting a tree 
should plant another in its place. 4 


All religions and cultures of the South Asian region have been rooted in the 
forests, not through fear and ignorance but through ecological insight. Myers 
says: 'In contrast to the folklore of temperate zones, which often regards forests 
as dark places of danger, traditional perceptions of forests in the humid tropics 
convey a sense of intimate harmony, with people and forests equal occupants of 
a communal habitat, a primary source of congruity between man and nature.’ 5 

For the tribes of Central India, the forest is the context and condition of 
survival. The mohwa (Bassia Icitifolia) is special for the tribals of Chattisgarh, of 
the Santhal Parganas, of Bastar and of the Satpuras. A large deciduous tree, 
usually with a short bole, spreading branches and a large rounded crown, it is 
one of the most important forest trees of India. Women collect the fleshy 
corollas of its flowers which are eaten raw or cooked, or dried, ground and 
mixed with flour for making cakes, or distilled into spirit. A thick white oil 
extracted from the seed is used by tribals for cooking and burning, and is sold for 
the manufacture of margarine, soap and glycerine. The tree is never felled owing 
to the value of its flowers and fruits. Even when forest land is cleared for 
cultivation, the mohwa trees are carefully preserved and are found scattered over 
cultivated lands long after clearing has taken place. Trees bear crops of flowers 
and fruit when about ten years old and yield about 40 kgs. of flowers per year. In 
1897 and 1900, serious famine years in Central India, the profuse blossoming of 
mohwa flowers was a famine insurance for the tribals. It is not surprising then, 
that to the forest dwellers of Central India, the mohwa is the tree of life. 

India's people have traditionally recognised the dependence of human 
survival on the existence of forests. A systematic knowledge about plants and 
forest ecosystems was thus generated and informal principles of forest 
management formulated, it has often been stated that 'scientific' forestry and the 
scientific management of forest resources in India began with the British. The 
historical justification for such a statement becomes possible only if one accepts 
that modern western patriarchal science is the only valid science, in ancient 
Indian traditions, scientific knowledge of the plant kingdom is evident from such 
terms as vriksayurveda, which means the science of the treatment of plant 
diseases, and vanaspati vidya or plant sciences, while many ancient texts were 
called Aranyakas or forest texts. Being derived from the living forest, indi- 
genous forestry science did not perceive trees as just wood; they were looked at 
from a multi- functional point of view, with a focus on diversity of form and 
function. For example, the rioted lexicon, Namalinganusasana, popularly 


known as Amarakosa, lists a number of words to denote a tree, each describing it 
from a different point of view 6 (see Table 1). This is in distinct contrast to the 
western tradition of forest management, which views trees primarily in terms of 
their woody biomass. 


Sanskrit name 

Functional description 


that which is cut 


that which grows on the earth 


that which has branches 


that which sucks water through the roots 


that by which people get coolness 


that which cannot move 


that which has leaves 

Vegetation itself was divided into various categories. Caraka, for example, 
divided trees and plants into four classes. 

( i ) Vanaspati: those which are fruit bearing only 

(ii) Vanaspatya: those that fruit and flower 

( iii) Osadbi. those that die after the ripening of fruits 
(iv) Virudhi: shrubs 

A distinction has also been made between natural and cultivated forests, 
suggesting that afforestation and regeneration through the planting of trees has 
always been significant in the renewal of the forest wealth of the region. This 
tradition of seeing trees and plants as live has been continued into modern times 
by eminent Indian scientists like J.C. Bose, who did detailed experiments to 

that the pretension of man and animals for undisputed superiority over 
their hitherto 'vegetative brethren' does not bear the test of close 
inspection. These experiments bring the plant much nearer than we ever 
thought. We find that it is not a mere mass of vegetative growth, but that 


its every fibre is instinct with sensibility. We are able to record the 
throbbings of its pulsating life, and find these wax and wane according 
to the life conditions of the plant, and cease in the death of the organism 
in these and many other ways the life reactions in plant and man are 
alike. 8 

Ethnobotanical work among India's many diverse tribes is also uncovering the 
deep, systematic knowledge of forests among them. The diversity of forest foods 
used in India emerges from this knowledge. In south India, a study conducted 
among the Soliga in the Belirangan hills of Karnataka shows that they use 27 
different varieties of leafy vegetables at different times of the year, and a variety 
of tubers, leaves, fruits and roots are used for their medicinal properties by the 
tribals. A young illiterate Irula boy from a settlement near Kotagiri identified 37 
different varieties of plants, gave their Irula names and their different uses. 

In Madhya Pradesh, although rice (Oryza sativa) and lesser millets 
(Panicum miliaceum, Eleusine coracanci and Paspalum scrobiculatum ) form the 
staple diet of the tribals, almost all of them supplement it with seeds, grains, 
roots, rhizomes, leaves and fruits of numerous wild plants which abound in the 
forests. Grigson noted that famine has never been a problem in Bastar as the 
tribes have always been able to draw half of their food from the innumberable 
edible forest products. 9 Tiwari prepared a detailed list of wild plant species eaten 
by the tribals in Madhya Pradesh. 10 He has listed 165 trees, shrubs and climbers. 
Of these, the first category contains a list of 3 1 plants whose seeds are roasted 
and eaten. There are 19 plants whose roots and tubers are eaten after baking, 
boiling or processing; there are 17 whose juice is taken fresh or after fermenting; 
25, whose leaves are eaten as vegetables, and 10 whose petals are cooked as 
vegetables. There are 63 plants whose fruits are eaten raw, ripe, or roasted or 
pickled; there are five species of Ficus which provide figs for the 
forest-dwellers. The fruits of the thorny shrub, Pitbcellobium dulce ( Inga dulds), 
also called jungle jalebi, are favourites with the tribals. The sepals of mohwa are 
greedily eaten and also fermented for liquor. Morns alba , the mulberry, provides 
fruit for both man and birds. Besides, the her (Zizypbus mauritiana and Z. 
Oenoplia) provides delicious fruit, and has been eaten by jungle dwellers from 
the Mesolithic period onwards. 

In non-tribal areas, too, forests provide food and livelihood through critical 
inputs to agriculture, through soil and water conservation, and through inputs of 
fodder and organic fertilizer. Indigenous sylvicultural practises are based on 


sustainable and renewable maximisation of all the diverse forms and functions 
of forests and trees. This common sylvicultural knowledge is passed on from 
generation to generation, through participation in the processes of forest renewal 
and of drawing sustenance from the forest ecosystem, in both forest and 
agriculture based economies, it is primarily women who use and manage the 
produce of forests and trees. In the Himalaya, where tree fodder is predominant 
in the agricultural economy even today, older women train the younger ones in 
the art of lopping (pollarding) and of collecting forest produce. In other regions 
also, lopping cycles and practices had evolved to maximise fodder production. 
Since food gathering and fodder collection has been women's work, primarily, 
women as foragers were critical in managing and renewing the diversity of the 
forest. Their work was complementary to that of men. The public and common 
domain of the forest was not closed to women - it was central to supporting life 
in the 'private' domain, the home and community. 

Indigenous forest management, as largely a women's domain for producing 
sustenance, was thus in an evolved state when the British arrived. Since the 
British interest in forests was exclusively for commercial timber, indigenous 
expertise became redundant for their interest and was replaced by a 
one -dimensional, masculinist science of forestry. 

Colonialism and the evolution of masculinist forestry 

When the British colonised India, they first colonised her forests. Ignorant of 
their wealth and of the wealth of knowledge of local people to sustainably 
manage the forests, they displaced local rights, local needs and local knowledge 
and reduced this primary source of life into a timber mine. Women's subsistence 
economy based on the forest was replaced by the commercial economy of 
British colonialism. Teak from Malabar was extracted for the King's Navy, and 
the sal of Central India and the conifers of the Himalaya were exploited for the 
railway system. Although it is always local people who are held responsible for 
deforestation, it is commercial demands that have more frequently resulted in 
large-scale forest destruction. In the Himalayan region there is evidence that it 
was the needs of the Empire and not of the local people that led to rapid forest 
denudation. According to Atkinson's Gazetteer, 

the forests were denuded of good trees in all places. The destruction of 
trees of all species appears to have continued steadily and reached its 
climax between 1855 and 1861, when the demands of the Railway 


authorities induced numerous speculators to enter into contracts for 
sleepers, and these men were allowed, unchecked, to cut down old trees 
very far in excess of what they could possibly export, so that for some 
years after the regular forest operations commenced, the department was 
chiefly busy cutting up and bringing to the depot the timber left behind 
by the contractors." 

When the British started exploiting Indian timber for military purposes, they did 
it rapaciously and in ignorance, because the 'great continent appeared to hold 
inexhaustible tracts covered with dense jungles, but there was no apparent 
necessity for their detailed exploration, even had this been a possibility. In the 
early years of our occupation the botany of the forests, the species of trees they 
contained and their respective values was an unopened book.' 12 

To the colonial government and its officials the critical role that forests play 
in nature and the great influence they exercise on the physical well-being of a 
country went unrecognised. In view of the large forest wealth that existed, the 
government for some years obtained its full requirement without difficulty, 
while local needs were also met. The early administrators appear to have been 
convinced that this state of affairs could go on for an unlimited period. In many 
localities forests were viewed as an obstruction to agriculture, which was taxed, 
and were seen therefore as a limiting factor to the prosperity of the coloniser. 
The policy was to extend agriculture and the watchword was to clear the forests 
with this end in view. Virgin forests of the Doon Valley were thus clearfelled for 
land grants made exclusively to British settlers. 

The military requirement for Indian teak led to an immediate proclamation 
declaring that the royalty right in teak trees claimed by the former government in 
the south of the continent, was vested in the East India Company in the year 
1799 alone, 10,000 teak Pees were brought down the Beypur River in Malabar. 
Under further pressure from the Home Government to ensure the maintenance of 
the future strength of the King's Navy, a decision was taken to appoint a special 
officer to superintend forest work - his duties were to preserve and improve the 
production of teak and other timber suitable for shipbuilding. Captain Watson of 
the police was appointed the first Conservator of Forests in India on November 
10, 1806. Under the proclamation of April 1807, he wielded great powers. He 
soon established a timber monopoly throughout Malabar and Travancore and 
furnished the government, as did his immediate successors, with a plentiful 
supply of cheap timber. But the methods by which this was done were 


intolerable and gradually gave rise to seething discontent amongst both local 
peasants as well as proprietors. The feeling rose to such a pitch that the 
Conservator- ship was abolished in 1823. 14 

The introduction of colonial forestry was thus established not because of 
superior forestry knowledge or scientific management, but through dominant 
military need and power. It was only after more than half a century of 
uncontrolled forest destruction by British commercial interests that an attempt 
was made to control exploitation. In 1865 the first Indian Forest Act (VII of 
1865) was passed by the Supreme Legislative Council, which authorised the 
government to declare forests and wastelands (benap or unmeasured lands) as 
reserved forests. 

The introduction of this legislation marks the beginning of what is called the 
'scientific management' of forests; it amounted basically to the formalisation of 
the erosion both of forests and of the rights of local people to forest produce. 
Commercial forestry, which is equated with 'scientific forestry' by those narrow 
interests exemplified by western patriarchy is reductionist in intellectual content 
and ecological impact, and generates poverty at the socioeconomic level for 
those whose livelihoods and productivity depend on the forest. Reductionism 
has been characteristic of this forestry because it sunders forestry from water 
management, from agriculture and from animal husbandry. Within the forest 
ecosystem it has reduced the diversity of life to the dead product, wood, and 
wood in turn to commercially valuable wood only. A commercial interest has the 
primary objective of maximising exchange value on the market through the 
extraction of commercially valuable species - forest ecosystems are therefore 
reduced to the timber of such species. By ignoring the complex relationship 
within the forest community and between plant life and other resources like soil 
and water, this pattern of resource use generates instabilities in the ecosystem 
and leads to counterproductive use of nature as a living and self-reproducing 
resource. The destruction of the forest ecosystem and the multiple functions of 
forest resources in turn hurts the economic interest of those groups of society, 
mainly women and tribals, who depend on the diverse resource functions of the 
forests for their survival. These include soil and water stabilisation and the 
provision of food, fodder, fuel, fertilizer, etc. In the alternative feminine forestry 
science which has been subjugated by the masculinist science, forests are not 
viewed as merely a stock of wood, isolated from the rest of the ecosystem, nor is 
their economic value reduced to the commercial value of timber. 'Productivity', 


'yield' and 'economic value' are defined for nature and for women's work as 
satisfying basic needs through an integrated ecosystem managed for 
multipurpose utilisation. Their meaning and measure is therefore entirely 
different from the meaning and measure employed in reductionist masculinist 
forestry. In a shift from ecological forestry to reductionist forestry all scientific 
terms are changed from ecosystem-dependent to ecosystem- independent ones. 
Thus while for women, tribals and other forest communities a complex 
ecosystem is productive in terms of water, herbs, tubers, fodder, fertilizer, fuel, 
fibre and as a genepool, for the forester, these components are useless, unpro- 
ductive waste and dispensable. Two economic perspectives lead to two notions 
of 'productivity' and 'value'. As far as women's productivity in survival and 
overall productivity are concerned, the natural tropical forest is a highly 
productive ecosystem. Examining the forests of the humid tropics from an 
ecological perspective Golley has noted, 'A large biomass is generally 
characteristic of tropical forests. The quantities of wood especially are large in 
tropical forests and average about 300 tons per ha. compared with about 150 tons 
per ha. for temperate forests.’ 15 However, in reductionist commercial forestry, 
overall productivity is subordinated to industrial use, and large biomass to 
species that can be profitably marketed - industrial and commercial biomass 
prevail; all the rest is waste. As Bethel, an international forestry consultant says, 
referring to the large biomass typical of forests in the humid tropics: 

It must be said that from a standpoint of industrial material supply, this 
is relatively unimportant. The important question is how much of this 
biomass represents trees and parts of trees of preferred species that can 
be profitably marketed. ... By today's utilisation standards, most of the 
trees in these humid tropical forests are, from an industrial materials 
standpoint, clearly weeds . 16 

The 'industrial materials standpoint' is the standpoint of a capitalist and 
patriarchal reductionist forestry which splits the living diversity and democracy 
of the forest into commercially useful dead wood which it valorises, and 
ecologically valuable weeds which it characterises as waste. This waste, 
however, is the wealth of biomass that maintains nature's water and nutrient 
cycles and satisfies the needs of food, fuel, fodder, fertilizer, fibre and medicine 
of agricultural communities. 

Since it is women's work that protects and conserves nature's life in forestry 
and in agriculture, and through such conservation work, sustains human life 


through ensuring the provision of food and water, the destruction of the integrity 
of forest ecosystems is most vividly and concretely experienced by peasant 
women. For them forestry is married to food production; it is essential for 
providing stable, perennial supplies of water for drinking and for irrigation, and 
for providing the fertility directly as green manure or as organic matter cycled 
through farm animals. Women's agricultural work in regions like the Himalaya 
is largely work in and with the forest, yet it is discounted both in forestry and in 
agriculture. The only forestry-related work that goes into census data is 
lumbering and tree-felling; cutting trees then becomes a source of roti or food for 
the men engaged in lumbering operations; for the women however, forests are 
food, not in death, but in life. The living forest provides the means for 
sustainable food production systems in the form of nutrients and water, and 
women's work in the forest facilitates this process. When, for example, women 
lop trees they enhance the productivity of the oak forest under stable conditions 
and under common ownership and control. While an unlopped tree has leaves 
that are too hard for cattle, lopping makes them soft and palatable, especially in 
early spring. Maintaining the diversity of living resources is critical to the 
feminine use of the forest: thus oak-leaf along with a mixture of dried grasses 
and agricultural by-products is fed to cattle through the late autumn, winter and 
into spring. In the monsoon, the green grass becomes the dominant fodder, and 
in October and November, agricultural waste such as rice straw, mandua straw 
and j angora straw become the primary supply of fodder. Lopping has never been 
viewed as a forest management strategy for using tree produce while conserving 
the tree. Yet, as Bandyopadhyay and Moench 17 have shown, lopping under 
appropriate conditions can actually increase the forest density and fodder 
productivity of the forest. Groups of women, young and old, go together to lop 
for fodder, and expertise develops by participation and through 
learning-by-doing. These informal forestry colleges of the women are small and 
decentred, creating and transferring knowledge about how to maintain the life of 
living resources. The visible forestry colleges by contrast are centralised and 
alienated: they specialise in a forestry of destruction, on how to transform a 
living resource into a commodity and subsequently, cash. 

The dispossession of the local people of their rights, their resources and their 
knowledge has not gone unchallenged. Forest struggles have been taking place 
throughout the country for over two centuries to resist the colonisation of the 
people's forests in India. The access and rights of the people to forests were first 


severely encroached upon with the introduction of the Forest Acts of 1878 and 
1927. The following years witnessed the spread of forest satyagrahas throughout 
India, as a protest against the reservation of forests for exclusive exploitation by 
British commercial interest, and their concommitant transformation from a 
common resource into a commodity. Villagers ceremonially removed forest 
products from the reserved forests to assert their right to satisfy their basic needs. 
The forest satyagrahas were especially successful in regions where survival of 
the local population was intimately linked with access to the forests, as in the 
Himalaya, the Western Ghats, and the Central Indian hills. These non-violent 
protests were systematically crushed by the British; in Central India, Gond 
tribals were gunned down for participating in the protests; in 1930 dozens of 
unarmed villagers were killed and hundreds injured in Tilari village in Tehri 
Garhwal, when they gathered to protest against the Forest Laws of the local 
rulers. After enormous loss of life, the satyagrahis were successful in reviving 
some of the traditional rights of the village communities to various forest pro- 
ducts. 18 The Forest Policy of post-colonial India continued on the colonial path 
of commercialisation and reductionism, and with it continued people's resistance 
to a denial of their basic needs, both through, alienation of rights and through 
ecological degradation. 

In the mountain regions of the Himalaya, the women of Garhwal started to 
protect their forests from commercial exploitation even at the cost of their lives, 
by stalling the famous Chipko movement, embracing the living trees as their 
protectors. Beginning in the early 1970s in the Garhwal region of Uttar Pradesh, 
the methodology and philosophy of Chipko has now spread to Himachal Pradesh 
in the north, to Karnataka in the south, to Rajasthan in the west, to Orissa in the 
east, and to the Central Indian highlands. 

The women of Chipko 

Women's environmental action in India preceded the UN Women's Decade as 
well as the 1972 Stockholm Environment Conference. Three hundred years ago 
more than 300 members of the Bishnoi community in Rajasthan, led by a woman 
called Amiita Devi, sacrificed their lives to save their sacred khejri trees by 
clinging to them. With that event begins the recorded history of Chipko. 19 

The recent Chipko movement has popularly been referred to as a women's 
movement, but it is only some male Chipko activists who have been projected 
into visibility. The women's contribution has been neglected and remains 


invisible, inspite of the fact that the history of Chipko is a history of the visions 
and actions of exceptionally courageous women. Environmental movements 
like Chipko have become historical landmarks because they have been fuelled 
by the ecological insights and political and moral strengths of women. I will 
dwell at some length on some of these exceptional women because 1 have 
personally been inspired by my interaction with them, and because I feel that it is 
unjust that the real pillars of the movement are still largely unknown. The exper- 
ience of these powerful women also needs to be shared to remind us that we are 
not alone, and that we do not take the first steps: others have walked before us. 

In the history of social and political movements, the evolution is generally 
neglected, and only the end result focussed on. This creates two problems: first, 
future organisational work does not benefit from the lessons of perseverence and 
patience born of years of movement building; people start looking for instant 
solutions because it is the instant successes that have been sold through 
pseudo-history. Second, while the historical evolution of movements involves 
significant contributions from thousands of participants over extended periods, 
their climaxes are localised in space and time. This facilitates the appropriation 
of the movement by an individual or group who then erases the contributions of 
others. Movements are major social and political processes, however, and they 
transcend individual actors. They are significant precisely because they involve 
a multiplicity of people and events which contribute to a reinforcement of social 

The Chipko process as a resurgence of woman power and ecological 
concern in the Garhwal Himalaya is a similar mosaic of many events and 
multiple actors. The significant catalysers of the transformations which made 
Chipko resistance possible have been women like Mira Behn, Sarala Behn, 
Bimala Behn, Hima Devi, Gauri Devi, Gunga Devi, Bachni Devi, Itwari Devi, 
Charnun Devi and many others. The men of the movement like Sunderlal 
Bahuguna, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Ghanshyarn Shailani and Dhoom Singh Negi 
have been their students and followers. Mira Behn was one of Gandhi's closest 
disciples who moved to the Himalayan region in the late '40s. Between 
Rishikesh and Hardwar she started a cattle centre called Pashulok, because cattle 
are central to sustainable agriculture. Writing to Mira Behn fifteen days before 
his death, Gandhi said: 

I see that you are destined for serving the cow and nothing else. But 1 

seem to see a vital defect in you. You are unable to cling to anything 


finally. You are a gypsy, never happy unless you are wandering. You 
will not become an expert in anything and your mother is also likely to 
perish in your lap. The only person, and that a woman, who really loves 
the cow, will fail her. Shall I pity you, the cow or me, for 1, the 
originator of the real idea of serving and saving the cow for humanity, 
have never cared or perhaps never had the time to become even a 
moderate expert.20 

As Gandhi had expected, Mira Behn moved on, from the ecology of the cow 
to the ecology of forests and water, to the links between deforestation and water 
crises. As she recollected later, 

Pashulok being situated as it is at the foot of the mountains, just where 
the Ganga emerges from the Himalayan valleys, I became very 
realistically aware of the terrible floods which pour down from the 
Ganga catchment area, and 1 had taken care to have all the buildings 
constructed above the flood high-mark. Within a year or two I witnessed 
a shocking flood: as the swirling waters increased, (there) came first 
bushes and boughs and great logs of wood, then in the turmoil of more 
and more water came whole trees, cattle of all sizes and from time to 
time a human being clinging to the remnants of his hut. Nothing could 
be done to save man or beast from this turmoil; the only hope was for 
them to get caught up somewhere on the edge of an island or riverbank 
prominence. The sight of these disastrous floods led me each summer to 
investigate the area north of Pashulok whence they came. Merciless 
deforestation as well as cultivation of profitable pines in place of 
broad-leaf trees was clearly the cause. This in turn led me to hand over 
charge of Pashulok to the government staff and to undertake a com- 
munity project in the valley of the Bhilangana. Here I built a little centre, 
Gopal Ashram, and concentrated on the forest problem. 21 

During her stay in Garhwal Mira studied the environment intimately and 
derived knowledge about it from the local people. From the older ones she learnt 
that, earlier, Tehri Garhwal forests consisted largely of oak, and Garhwali 
folksongs, which encapsulate collective experience and wisdom, tell repeatedly 
of species such as banj and kharik* They create images of abundant forests of 
banj, grasslands and fertile fields, large herds of animals and vessels full of milk. 
In Mira's view the primary reason for degeneration in this region was the 
disappearance of the banj trees. According to her, if the catchment of the Ganga 


was not once again clothed with ban), floods and drought would continue to get 

The issue was not merely one of planting trees, but of planting ecologically 
appropriate trees. As Mira Behn pointed out, the replacement of ban] and mixed 
forests by the commercially valuable pine was a major reason for the increasing 
ecological instability of the Himalaya and the growing economic deprivation of 
Garhwali women, since pine failed to perform any of the ecological and 
economic functions of banj. 

Mira Behn's ecological insights were inherited by Sunderlal Bahuguna who 
had worked with her in the Bhilangana. valley. Bahuguna had joined the 
independence struggle at the tender age of 13, and was Congress Secretary of 
Uttar Pradesh at the time of Independence. In 1954 he married Bimla Behn, who 
had spent eight years with Sarala Behn, another close disciple of Gandhi's. 
Sarala Behn had started an ashram for the education of hill women in Kausani 
and her full-time commitment was to make them recognise that they were not 
beasts of burden but goddesses of wealth since they rear cattle and produce food, 
performing 98 per cent of all labour in farming and animal husbandry. 
Influenced by Sarala Behn's ideas of women's freedom, Bimla agreed to marry 
Sunderlal Bahuguna only if he left the Congress Party and settled down in a 
remote village so that they could awaken the hill people by living with and 
through them. Writing twelve years after the establishment of the Silyara 
Ashram, Sunderlal and Bimia Bahuguna wrote: 'One of us, Sunderlal, was 
inspired to settle in a village by Mira Behn and the other, Bimia, was inspired by 
living continuously with Sarala Behn.' 22 Sunderlal Bahuguna, in turn, drew in 
other activists like Ghanshyam Raturi, Chandi Prasad Bhatt and Dhoom Singh 
Negi to lend support to a movement generated by women’s power. As he often 
says 'We are the runners and messengers - the real leaders are the women.' 

In the early stages of the Chipko movement, when the exploitation of forest 
resources was carried out by non-local forest contractors, the women's special 
concern with forestry for survival, which provided the base for Chipko, was 
temporarily merged with a largely male concern for raw material supply for 
saw-mills and resin factories set up by local co-operatives. 23 These male 
co-operatives, set up by Gandhian organisations, saw the Chipko demand 
primarily as one of the supply of resin and timber for their industrial units. 
Among the many small scale forest industries that mushroomed in the hill 
regions in the 1960s were those run by Dasholi Gram Swaraj Sangh, Purola 


Gram Swaraj Sangh, Gangotri Gram Swaraj Sangh, Berinag Gram Swaraj 
Sangh, Kathyur Gram Swaraj Sangh, Takula Gram Swaraj Sangh, etc. Soon, 
however, a new separation took place between local male interests for 
commercial activity based on forest products, and local women's interests for 
sustenance activity based on forest protection. Bahuguna has been an effective 
messenger of the women's concern. He has developed these insights into the 
philosophy of natural forests as life-support systems and the Chipko struggle as 
a struggle to conserve them. It is largely through listening to the quiet voices of 
the women during his padyatras that Bahuguna has retained an ability to 
articulate the feminine- ecological principles of Chipko. When asked in 1977 
why he did not set up resin units and saw-mills like other voluntary agencies in 
Garhwal, he replied: 

If you had proposed the setting up of saw-mills as hill development six 
years ago, I would have considered it. But today I see clearly that 
establishing saw-mills in the hills is to join the project to destroy Mother 
Earth. Saw-mills have an endless appetite for trees and wipe out forests 
to satisfy their appetite. 24 

While the philosophical and conceptual articulation of the ecological view 
of the Himalayan forests has been done by Mira Behn and Bahuguna, the 
organisational foundation for it being a women's movement was laid by Sarala 
Behn with Bimla Behn in Garhwal and Radha Bhatt in Kumaon. 

In a commemorative column dedicated to Sarala Behn on her 75th birthday 
(which coincided with International Women's Year in 1975) the activists of 
Uttarakhand called her the daughter of the Himalaya and the mother of social 
activism in the region. Sarala Behn had come to India in search of non-violence. 
As a close follower of Gandhi, she worked mainly in the hill areas during the 
independence movement. Reflecting on the Gandhian legacy in her 75th year, 
she wrote : 

From my childhood experience I have known that law is not just; that 
the principles that govern humanity are higher than those that govern the 
state; that a centralised government, indifferent to its peoples, is a cruel 
joke in governance; that the split between the private and public ethic is 
the source of misery, injustice and exploitation in society. Each child in 
India understands that bread (roti) is not just a right to the one who has 
money in his pocket. It is a more fundamental right of the one whose 
stomach is hungry. This concept of rights works within the family, but is 


shed at the societal level. Then the ethics of the market reigns, and men 
get trapped in it. 25 

Sarala Behn knew that the ethics of sharing, of producing and maintaining 
life, that women conserved in their activity, was the countervailing force to the 
masculinist morality of the market which came as 'development' and created a 
cash economy, but also created destitution and drunkenness. The early women's 
movement in Uttarakhand was therefore an anti-alcohol movement aimed at 
controlling alcohol addiction among men who earned cash incomes from felling 
trees with one hand and lost the cash to liquor with the other. For the women, 
drunkenness meant violence and hunger for their children and themselves, and it 
was the organisational base created among them through the anti-alcohol 
movement that was inherited by Chipko. In 1965 the women of Garhwal raised 
their voice for prohibition in Ghansyali.In November that year, when thousands 
of women in Tehri demonstrated and picketted at shops, prohibition came into 
effect in five districts - Tehri, Uttarkashi, Chamoli, Garhwal and Pithoragarh. In 
1978 Sarala Behn wrote her Blueprint for Survival in which she reiterated the 
women's Chipko demand: 

We must remember that the main role of the hill forests should be not to 
yield revenue, but to maintain a balance in the climatic conditions of the 
whole of northern India and the fertility of the Gangetic Plain. If we 
ignore their ecological importance in favour of their short term 
economic utility, it will be prejudicial to the climate of northern India 
and will dangerously enhance the cycle of recurring and alternating 
floods and droughts. 26 

Sarala Behn established the Laxmi Ashram in Kausani primarily to empower the 
hill women. Bimla Behn who spent seven years with her, widened her project 
and established the Navjivan Ashram in Silyara, which then became the 
energizing source for Chipko. 

The organisational base of women was thus ready by the 1970s, and this 
decade saw the beginning of more frequent popular protest concerning the rights 
of the people to utilise local forest produce. Nineteen seventy-two saw 
widespread, organised protests against the commercial exploitation of forests by 
outside contractors: in Purola on December 11, in Uttarkashi on December 12, 
and in Gopeshwar on December 15. It was then that Raturi composed his famous 


Embrace our trees 
Save them from being felled 
The property of our hills 
Save it from being looted. 

While the concept of saving trees by embracing them is old, as recalled by 
the case of the Bishnois, in the context of the current phase of the movement for 
forest rights, this popular poem is the earliest documentary source of the now 
famous name, 'Chipko'. 

The movement spread throughout Garhwal and into Kumaon, through the 
totally decentred leadership of local women, connected to each other not 
vertically, but horizontally - through the songs of Ghanshyam Raturi, through 
'runners' like Bahuguna, Bhatt, and Negi who carried the message of Chipko 
happenings from one village to the next, from one region to another. For hill 
women, food production begins with the forest. Disappearing forests and water 
are quite clearly an issue of survival for hill women, which is why thousands of 
Garhwal women have protested against commercial forestry which has 
destroyed their forests and water resources. 

In March 1973, when 300 ash trees which had been auctioned to a 
manufacturer of sports goods, were to be felled in Mandal the villagers went to 
the forest, beating drums. They declared that they would embrace the trees and 
not allow them to be cut. The labourers withdrew, but the manufacturer obtained 
an alternative contract in the Rampur Fata forest in Kedar Ghati. On receiving 
this information, people started walking towards Kedar Ghati. Seventytwo 
year-old Shyama Devi, who in 1975 had picketted a wine shop in Chandrapuri, 
brought her leadership experience to Kedar Ghati and mobilised the local 
women; the forest of Rampur Fata resounded with Chipko slogans from June to 
December, when the contractor finally withdrew. 

Chipko now shifted to the Alakananda Valley, to the village Reni, that lies 
on the road from Joshimath to Niti Ghati. Devastation in the Alakananda Valley 
had been the first major signal that the Himalaya was dying when, in 1970, a 
major flood inundated several villages and fields for miles together. The women 
of Reni had not forgotten the Alakananda disaster; they linked the landslide that 
blocked the river and aggravated the floods with the felling of trees in the 
catchment area. In 1973, a woman grazing her cows spotted a few persons with 
axes in their hands; she whistled and collected all her companions who 
suiTounded the contractor's men and said: 'This forest is our mother. When there 


is a crisis of food, we come here to collect grass and dry fruits to feed our 
children. We dig out herbs and collect mushrooms from this forest. You cannot 
touch these trees.' 27 The leadership to protect the Reni forest was provided by 
50-year old Gauri Devi and 52-year old Gunga Devi, with co-workers Rupsa, 
Bhakti, Masi, Harki, Malti, Phagli and Bala Devi. Together, in small groups, 
they formed vigilance parties to keep an eye on the axemen till the government 
was forced to set up a committee, which recommended a 10-year ban on 
commercial green-felling in the Alakananda catchment. 

The Chipko movement then started mobilising for a ban on commercial 
exploitation throughout the hill districts of Uttar Pradesh because the overfelling 
of trees was leading to mountain instability everywhere. In 1975, more than 300 
villages in these districts faced the threat of landslides and severe erosion. 
Genvala, Math and Dharali in Uttar Kashi, Pilkhi and Nand Gaon in Tehri, 
Chirntoli and Kinjhani in Chamoli, Baghar and Jageshwar in Almora, Rayer 
Agar and Jajardeval in Pithoragarh are evident examples. The movement for a 
total ban was spurred by women like 50-year old Hima Devi who had earlier 
mobilised public opinion against alcoholism in 1965, and was now moving from 
village to village to spread the message to save the trees. She spoke for the 
women at demonstrations and protests against auctions throughout the hill 
districts: 'My sisters are busy in harvesting the kharif crop. They are busy in 
winnowing. 1 have come to you with their message. Stop cutting trees. There are 
no trees even for birds to perch on. Birds flock to our crops and eat them. What 
will we eat? The firewood is disappearing: how will we cook?' 28 

In January, 1975 women of the hill regions started a 75-day trek from 
Uttarkashi to Kausani and another 50-day trek from Devprayag to Naugaon to 
mobilise public opinion on women's increasing workload due to deforestation. 
Bimla Behn and Radha Bhatt were part of these padyatras. In June 1977 a 
meeting of all the activists in the hills held in Sarala Behn's ashram further 
strengthened the movement and consolidated the resistance to commercial 
felling as well as to excessive tapping of resin from the pine trees. In the Gotar 
forests in the Tehri range the forest ranger was transferred because of his 
inability to prevent the illegal overtapping of pine resin. It was in this period that 
the methodology of hugging trees to save them from being felled was actually 
used for the first time by Dhoom Singh Negi in Salet forest near the village of 
Pipleth in Henwal. 


Among the numerous instances of Chipko successes throughout the 
Garhwal Himalaya in the years to follow, are those of Adwani, Amarsar, 
Chanchnidhar, Dungari, Paintoli and Badiyagarh. The auction of the Adwani 
forests took place in October 1977 in Narendernagar, the district headquarters. 
Sunderlal Bahuguna undertook a fast against the auction and appealed to the 
forest contractors and the district authorities to refrain from their mission. The 
auction took place despite expressions of popular discontent, and the forests 
were scheduled to be felled in the first week of December 1977.Large groups of 
women, led by Bachhni Devi (the wife of the local village headman, himself a 
contractor) gathered together. Chipko activist Dhoom Singh Negi supported the 
women's struggle by beginning a fast in the forest itself. The women tied sacred 
threads to the trees as a token of their vow of protection. Between December 13 
and 20, a large number of women from 15 villages guarded the forests while 
discourses from ancient texts on their role in Indian life went on uninterruptedly. 

The axe-man withdrew, only to return on February 1, 1978, with two 
truckloads of armed police. The plan was to encircle the forests with their help in 
order to keep the people away during the actual felling. Even before they 
reached the area, the volunteers of the movement entered the forest and told their 
story to the forest labourers who had been brought in from distant places. By the 
time the contractors arrived with the policemen, each tree was being guarded by 
three volunteers. The police, having been defeated in their own plan and seeing 
the determination and awareness of the people, hastily withdrew. 

There are in India, today, two paradigms of forestry - one life-enhancing, the 
other life-destroying. The life-enhancing paradigm emerges from the forest and 
the feminine principle; the life-destroying one from the factory and the market. 
The former creates a sustainable, renewable forest system, supporting and 
renewing food and water sources. The maintenance of conditions for 
renewability is its primary management objective, while the maximising of 
profits through commercial extraction is the primary management objective of 
the latter. Since the maximising of profits is consequent upon the destruction of 
conditions of renewability, the two paradigms are cognitively and ecologically 
incommensurate. The first paradigm has emerged from India's ancient forest 
culture, in all its diversity, and has been renewed in contemporary times by the 
women of Garhwal through Chipko. 

It is these two distinct knowledge and economic systems which clashed in 
1977 in Adwani when the Chipko movement became explicitly an ecological 


and feminist movement. The women, of course, had always been the backbone 
of Chipko and for them the struggle was ever the struggle for the living, natural 
forest. But in the early days when it was directed against removing the non-local 
forest contractors, local commercial interest had also been part of the resistance. 
Once non-local private contractors were removed and a government agency (the 
Forest Development Corporation) started working through local labour 
contractors and forest cooperatives, the women continued to struggle against the 
exploitation of the forests. It did not matter to them whether the forest was 
destroyed by outsiders or their own men. The most dramatic turn in this new 
confrontation took place when Bachni Devi of Adwani led a resistance against 
her own husband who had obtained a local contract to fell the forest. The forest 
officials arrived to browbeat and intimidate the women and Chipko activists, but 
found the women holding up lighted lanterns in broad daylight. Puzzled, the 
forester asked them their intention. The women replied, ‘We have come to teach 
you forestry. ‘He retorted, 'You foolish women, how can you who prevent 
felling know the value of the forest? Do you know what forests bear? They 
produce profit and resin and timber.' And the women immediately sang back in 

What do the forests bear? 

Soil, water and pure air. 

Soil, water and pure air 

Sustain the earth and all she bears. 

The Adwani satyagraha created new directions for Chipko. The movement's 
philosophy and politics now evolved to reflect the needs and knowledge of the 
women. Peasant women came out, openly challenging the reductionist 
commercial forestry system on the one hand and the local men who had been 
colonised by that system, cognitively, economically and politically, on the other. 

Afforestation projects and reductionism 

The main thrust of conservation struggles like Chipko is that forests and frees are 
life-support systems, and should be protected and regenerated for their 
biospheric functions. The crisis mind on the other hand sees the forest and trees 
as weed, valued commercially, and converts even afforestation into 
deforestation and desertification. From life-support systems, trees are converted 
into green gold - all planting is motivated by the slogan, 'Money grows on trees.' 


Whether it is schemes like social forestry or wasteland development, 
afforestation programmes are conceived at the international level by 'experts' 
whose philosophy of tree-planting falls within the reductionist paradigm of 
producing wood for the market, not biomass for maintaining ecological cycles or 
satisfying local needs of food, fodder and fertilizer. All official programmes of 
afforestation, based on heavy funding and centralised decision making, act in 
two ways against the feminine principle in forestry - they destroy the forest as a 
diverse and self-reproducing system, and destroy it as commons, shared by a 
diversity of social groups with the smallest having rights, access and 

'Social' forestry and the 'miracle' tree 

Social forestry projects are a good example of single-species, single commodity 
production plantations, based on reductionist models which divorce forestry 
from agriculture and water management, and needs from markets. 

A case study of World Bank sponsored social forestry in Kolar district of 
Karnataka 29 is an illustration of reductionism and maldevelopment in forestry 
being extended to farmland. Decentred agroforestry, based on multiple species 
and private and common tree stands, has been India's age-old strategy for 
maintaining farm productivity in and and semi-arid zones. The honge, tamarind, 
jackfruit and mango, the jola, gobli, kagli* and bamboo traditionally provided 
food and fodder, fertilizer and pesticide, fuel and small timber. The backyard of 
each rural home was a nursery, and each peasant woman the sylviculturalist. The 
invisible, decentred agroforestry model was significant because the humblest of 
species and the smallest of people could participate in it, and with space for the 
small, everyone was involved in protecting and planting. 

The reductionist mind took over tree -planting with 'social forestry'. Plans 
were made in national and international capitals by people who could not know 
the purpose of the honge and the neem, and saw them as weeds. The experts 
decided that indigenous knowledge was worthless and 'unscientific', and 
proceeded to destroy the diversity of indigenous species by replacing them with 
row after row of eucalyptus seedlings in polythene bags, in government 
nurseries. Nature's locally available seeds were laid waste; people's locally 
available knowledge and energies were laid waste. With imported seeds and 
expertise came the import of loans and debt and the export of wood, soils - and 
people. Trees, as a living resource, maintaining the life of the soil and water and 


of local people, were replaced by trees whose dead wood went straight to a pulp 
factory hundreds of miles away. The smallest farm became a supplier of raw 
material to industry and ceased to be a supplier of food to local people. Women's 
work, linking the trees to the crops, disappeared and was replaced by the work of 
brokers and middlemen who brought the eucalyptus trees on behalf of industry. 
Industrialists, foresters and bureaucrats loved the eucalyptus because it grows 
straight and is excellent pulp-wood, unlike the bonge which shelters the soil with 
its profuse branches and dense canopy and whose real worth is as a living tree on 
a farm. The bonge could be nature's idea of the perfect tree for arid Karnataka. It 
has rapid growth of precisely those parts of the tree, the leaves and small 
branches, which go back to the earth, enriching and protecting it, conserving its 
moisture and fertility. The eucalyptus, on the other hand, when perceived 
ecologically, is unproductive, even negative, because this perception assesses 
the 'growth' and 'productivity' of trees in relation to the water cycle and its 
conservation, in relation to soil fertility and in relation to human needs for food 
and food production. The eucalyptus has destroyed the water cycle in arid 
regions due to its high water demand and its failure to produce humus, which is 
nature's mechanism for conserving water. Most indigenous species have a much 
higher biological productivity than the eucalyptus, when one considers water 
yields and water conservation. The non-woody biomass of trees has never been 
assessed by forest measurements and quantification within the reductionist 
paradigm, yet it is this very biomass that functions in conserving water and 
building soils. It is little wonder that Garhwal women call a tree dali or branch, 
because they see the productivity of the tree in terms of its non-woody biomass 
which functions critically in hydrological and nutrient cycles within the forest, 
and through green fertilizer and fodder in cropland. 

In the context of ecological cycles and of the food needs of people and 
livestock, the eucalyptus actually makes negative contributions. It is destructive 
to nature's work and women's work in agriculture, for by destroying the water 
and land and organic matter base for food production, women's productivity in 
sustenance is killed. Kolar, which is the most successful social forestry district in 
Karnataka, has already lost more than 13 per cent of its agricultural land to 
eucalyptus cultivation; most of this has been at the cost of its staple food, the 
millet, ragi, and associated food crops. Table 2 gives the decline in the area 
under ragi cultivation since the beginning of the social forestry programme. 


Today Kolar is the most severely hit by drought and food scarcity, for eucalyptus 
undermines not just food production but the long-term productivity of the soil. 


Area and production of ragi in Kolar district 


Area (ba) 

Production (tons) 













Malur, a region in Kolar district which has 30 per cent of its land under 
eucalyptus was compared to Korategere in neighbouring Turnkur where 
indigenous farm forestry continues to provide a diversity of organic inputs to 
agriculture. Table 3 shows how eucalyptus has induced food and nutrition 
deficiencies in Malur. 


Food availability per day per individual 

Korategere Malur 

Land holdings 









1 ha 





1-2 ha 





2-4 ha 





4 ha 





'Greening' with eucalyptus is a violence against nature and its cycles, and it 
is a violence against women who depend on the stability of nature's cycles to 
provide sustenance in the form of food and water. Eucalyptus guzzles nutrients 


and water and, in the specific conditions of low rainfall zones, gives nothing 
back but terpenes to the soil. These inhibit the growth of other plants and are 
toxic to soil organisms which are responsible for building soil fertility and 
improving soil structure. 30 The eucalyptus certainly increased cash and 
commodity flows, but it resulted in a disastrous interruption of organic matter 
and water flows within the local ecosystem. Its proponents failed to calculate the 
costs in terms of the destruction of life in the soil, the depletion of water 
resources and the scarcity of food and fodder that eucalyptus cultivation creates. 
Nor did they, while frying to shorten rotations for harvesting, see that tamarind, 
jackfruit and bonge have very short rotations of one year in which the biomass 
harvested is far higher than that of eucalyptus, which they nevertheless declared 
a 'miracle' tree. The crux of the matter is that fruit production was never the con- 
cern of forestry in the reductionist paradigm - it focussed on wood, and wood for 
the market, alone. Eucalyptus as an exotic, introduced in total disregard of its 
ecological appropriatenes, has thus become an exemplar of anti-life 

Women throughout India have resisted the expansion of eucalyptus because 
of its destruction of water, soil and food systems. On August 10, 1983, the 
women and small peasants of Barha and Holahalli villages in Tumkur district 
(Karnataka) marched en masse to the forest nursery and pulled out millions of 
eucalyptus seedlings, planting tamarind and mango seeds in their place. This 
gesture of protest, for which they were arrested, spoke out against the virtual 
planned destruction of soil and water systems by eucalyptus cultivation, it also 
silently challenged the domination of a forestry science that had reduced all 
species to one (the eucalyptus), all needs to one, (that of the pulp industry), and 
all knowledge to one (that of the World Bank and forest officials). It challenged 
the myth of the miracle tree: tamarind and mango are symbols of the energies of 
nature and of local people, of the links between these seeds and the soil, and of 
the needs that these trees - and others like them - satisfy in keeping the earth and 
the people alive. Forestry for food - food for the soil, for farm animals, for 
people - all women's and peasants' struggles revolve around this theme, whether 
in Garhwal or Karnataka, in the Santhal Parganas or Chattisgarb. in reserved 
forests, farmlands or commons. Destruction of diversity and life, and 
colonisation of the commons is built into reductionist forestry and its new avatar, 
‘wasteland development'. 


The approaching tragedy of the commons 

Recovering five million hectares of the commons in India each year could signal 
the end of rural poverty and a reversal of the ecological collapse of critical 
life-support systems like soil, water and vegetation. Yet the wasteland 
development programme, far from being a recovery of the commons project, 
will in fact, privatise the commons, accentuate rural poverty and increase 
ecological instability. In one stroke it will rob the poor of their remaining 
common resources, the only survival base to which they have access. The 
usurpation of the commons which began with the British will reach its final limit 
with the wasteland development programme as is. Chattrapati Singh of the 
Indian Law Institute argues : 

It is evident that till the end of the last century and in all historical 
periods before that, at least 80 per cent of India's natural resources were 
common property, with only 20 per cent being privately utilised... This 
extensive common property has provided the resource base for a 
non-cash, non-market economy. A whole range of necessary resources 
has been freely available to the people. Thus commonly available wood, 
shrubs and cowdung have been utilised for cooking and heating; mud, 
bamboo and palm leaves for housing, wild grass and shrubs as animal 
fodder, and a variety of fruits and vegetables as food. 31 

These free commons have historically been the survival base for rural India 
and the domain of productivity of women. With the reservation of forests a 
century ago the first step towards the privatisation of commons took place. 
Today, 'wasteland development' constitutes the last step in their disappearance. 
N.S. Jodha, who has worked extensively on common property resources, has 
shown how women's work and the livelihoods of poorer sections of rural society 
are intimately linked to trees and grasslands in the commons, which support the 
farm animals and thus take pressure off cropland, while increasing organic 
inputs to crop through animal waste. 32 Small peasants and landless labourers can 
own livestock largely because of the existence of the commons. Further, in arid 
zones, traditional farming systems partly derive their stability and viability from 
the commons which allow for an integrated and diversified production strategy 
using crops, livestock and trees, which cushion the dry-land economy by 
supplying food, fodder and fuel in years of crop failure. Nearly ten per cent of 
the nutrition of poorer families has been found to come directly from the com- 


mons. Women's work in the sustenance economy of the poorest groups is thus 
closely tied to the existence of the commons. 

The privatisation of the commons through wasteland development is not an 
aberration blit an outcome of the dominance of development agencies like the 
World Bank, and their indifference to the needs of nature and vulnerable social 
groups. For such organisations and agencies, self-provisioning is not economic 
activity. In 1984, the World Bank wrote up a National Forestry Project for India, 
a significant component of which was the privatisation of wastelands. In 1985, it 
floated a Tropical Forestry Action Plan of eight billion dollars based on the same 
logic of the corporate takeover of commons. In 1985 the Wasteland 
Development Board was set up with the laudable objective of bringing five 
million hectares of wasteland under tree cover annually. The regeneration of 
ecologically appropriate tree cover with socially appropriate community control 
could help rebuild people's resource base, and re-establish their control over the 
commons. Yet the Wasteland Board schemes will primarily privatise the 
commons by transferring rights and control from the community as a whole, to 
the World Bank, private business and a few local people. The Wasteland Board 
had recommended the entry of the corporate sector in wasteland development, 
and proposals have been cleared for a variety of industries from strawboard and 
paper to plastics and polythene. This attempt at appropriating the commons is 
being facilitated by a number of confusions: ( a ) the confusion between 
wastelands as commons and wastelands as ecologically degraded land, private 
or common; and ( b ) tree planting as foresty. In afforestation of wastelands risks 
arise both from what is understood as wasteland and as afforestation. 
Ecologically, wastelands are lands which have lost their biological productivity, 
a process also known as desertification. It is this meaning that is invoked to 
undertake a massive afforestation programme. However, a second meaning is 
invoked to administer the programme, and this meaning has nothing to do with 
whether or not the land is currently unproductive in the ecological sense. 

The colonial heritage: commons as 'wasteland' 

'Wastelands' as a land use category is, like much else, a part of our colonial 
heritage, loaded with the biases of colonial rule, where meaning was defined by 
the interest of the rulers. The colonial concept of wastelands was not an 
assessment of the biological productivity of land, but of its revenue generating 
capacity: 'wasteland'was land that did not pay any revenue because it was 


uncultivated. Under such wasteland came the forested districts of Chittagong. 
Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Chota Nagpur and Assam - and the vast trail of forest land 
towards the mouth and delta of the Hooghly and other rivers, known as the 
Sundarbans. These lands were taken over by the British and leased to cultivators 
to transform into revenue generating lands. While in the Gangetic plains 
'wastelands' were allotted to villages, in the heavily forested region of Dehradun, 
Mirzapur, etc., forest tracts were retained as 'government waste', in Punjab, 20 
per cent of the cultivated area of a village was given away as village waste. 
These lands were kept partly as forest and grazing lands, and partly intended for 
the extension of cultivation. In 1861, under the viceroyalty of Lord Canning, the 
wasteland rules were formulated to administer these non-revenue generating, but 
often biologically productive, lands. As Baden-Powell records, 'The value of 
state forests - to be made out of the best and most usefully situated wooded and 
grasslands - was not even recognised, and the occupation of the 'waste' by 
capitalists and settlers was alone discussed.’ 33 Rich forests were also considered 
waste in the early colonial period: the large scale destruction of the primeval 
forests of the Doon Valley for land grants to Britishers is one example of how an 
administrative category of waste actually created an ecological one. What was 
not economically of value to the British was declared value-less, inspite of high 
ecological and local use value. 

The extensive clearfelling of forests for agricultural land use was a typically 
colonial view of turning waste into wealth, created by the notion of agricultural 
surplus as an important source of revenue. As the Eighth Settlement Report of 
the Doon Valley admitted: 

Perhaps no mistake was more common in the early days of British rule 
than to suppose that the extension of the cultivation, wherever culturable 
land could be found, and the clearing of forest and jungle to extend 
cultivation, must necessarily benefit the country and the government, 
and should be pushed as much as possible. 34 
It was not until later in the nineteenth century that the value of forests was 
realised. Ecological considerations were not, however, the central objective of 
the reservation of forests through the notification of the Forest Act of 1878. It 
was the revenue generating capacity of forests which led to their reservation, and 
protection was defined as the exclusion of villagers' access to forests as a 
common resource. Forests in themselves now constituted a property of great 
value and might be made to yield an annual revenue equal to cultivation. The 


shift in the colonial perspective of seeing forests as wealth and not waste also led 
to their conversion from a common resource for local use, under local 
community control, to a commodity for commercial use under bureaucratic 
control. This robbery of the commons was seriously resisted through 'forest 
satyagrahas' throughout the country. 

A second robbery of the commons is now under way through 'wastelands 
development', which is a euphemism for the privatisation of the commons. The 
last resource of the poor for fodder and fuel will now disappear through 
privatisation. As usual, in every scheme that worsens the position of the poor, it 
is the poor who are invoked as beneficiaries. Leases to some token landless 
people are aimed at covering up the large-scale appropriation of the common 
resources of the majority of the poor. 

Mannu Rakshana Koota: saving the soil, protecting the commons 

An example of how such a scheme goes awry can be taken from the Karnataka 
experience. Village commons in Shimoga and Chikmagalur are being taken 
away from people for wasteland development. These village commons are C and 
D class lands in revenue records. Categorised as wasteland, they are meant for 
fulfilling the basic needs of villagers, for whom 'wastelands' are their common 
wealth, supporting their agricultural ecology. Attempts to change the 
vegetational and land use characteristics of these village commons are, in their 
perception, attempts at robbing their land of its biological wealth. There is a 
proposal for transferring all these village commons, within a radius of 100 kms 
of Harihar Polyfibres, and utilising about 45,000 acres of commons for growing 
eucalyptus and selling it to Harihar Polyfibres. The commons are to be leased 
individually to a few landless beneficiaries. 

The people of the affected villages have protested by uprooting newly 
planted eucalyptus seedlings from these 'wastelands' in large numbers. (Some of 
the wastelands are in fact, under natural evergreen or semi-green forests, and the 
average tree population has been found to be 50-200 per acre of diverse tree 
species.) The cultivation of eucalyptus in the village commons consisting of 
these C and D class lands is seen by the people as a programme for the creation 
of wastelands, not a programme for their development. The conversion of 
ecologically productive village commons to feedstock for the wood and fibre 
industry is in direct conflict with the basic biomass needs of the local villages, 
and their diversion to industrial plantations through a project for wasteland 


development has generated a major popular resistance movement for the 
protection of the commons, called'Mannu Rakshana Koota' or 'Movement for 
Saving the Soil'. The government seems determined to take over the commons 
and manage them commercially throughout the country. Poor people's needs and 
the need for ecological stability are to be sacrificed in this ultimate privatisation 
of the commons. 

The national programme for privatising the commons is the tree pcittci 
scheme of breaking up the commons and leasing them out to individuals or 
groups of individuals for tree planting. The scheme will have a far-reaching 
social and ecological impact— largely detrimental to the poorest who have 
traditionally sustained themselves on the commons, a shared resource to which 
all in the local community have access. Privatisation amounts to closing off the 
access of large numbers, granting exclusively to some. On paper, preference will 
be given to the landless; in practise, we know how beneficiaries are identified in 
the absence of community check and control. The World Batik National Social 
Forestry Plan admits that such schemes could at most benefit 10 per cent of 
landless and marginal farmers and remains silent about the 90 per cent who no 
longer have a commons to survive on. The planting will be financed through 
government loans. Since such loans must be paid back, the lessee will be forced 
to plant commercially and to harvest at short rotations. This has already been the 
trend of the tree patta scheme in West Bengal's World Bank funded project. The 
economics of the market will, as always, exclude those who have no purchasing 
power, and whose zero cost biomass sources in the commons have been usurped 
to create a commodity. The economy of the commons does not need purchasing 
power, the economy of the market does. Local needs will therefore be less 
satisfied through tree pattas than through commons. Further, since the hanks 
which give the loans will also design the afforestation package, permanent and 
sustainable forestry can hardly be expected to be the outcome. Short-term 
commercial wood production, which mines soil nutrients and moisture, will 
result. The market, and not the needs of local people or local ecosystems will 
determine the planting pattern. As the report of the group constituted to evolve 
guidelines for tree pattas states, 'NABARD Banks and the implementing 
agencies could consider preparing some model schemes for adoption in different 
areas so that technical feasibility and economic viability are given due 
consideration.' The expertise for forestry has now shifted further away from the 
life of the forest and the lives of those who depend on forestry for survival. There 


is no reference in the new projects to ecological viability or issues of 
entitlements and rights for those for whom the panchayat and community lands 
were a free common resource. We have enough evidence to show that whenever 
this happens poor people are further deprived and ecosystems further degraded. 
The 'eucalyptisation' phenomenon has shown how the people (especially 
women) and nature can be wounded simultaneously with inappropriate tree 
planting. The wasteland development programme as it stands today is merely a 
plan that will destroy the commons for the rule of the market. And with the 
commons will be destroyed the survival base of those who depend on them for 
their subsistence, and the production base for womanly work in sustenance. 

There is, of course, the popular triage thesis that the poor have no right to 
survival and should be dispensed with. Hardin's tragedy of the commans 
scenario emerges from male reductionist assumptions about nature and the logic 
of triage that such reductionism and its principles of exclusion and 
dispensability entail . 35 Hardin is just a symbol of the new trend in reductionist 
science , which uses the language of ecology and conservation to unleash another 
attack of violence against nature.More centralisation, more uniformity, more 
manipulation become new and false prescriptions for overcoming the ecological 
crisis. Yet neither nature nor people can be saved when the destruction of the 
former and the dispensability of the latter are the presupposition for creating the 
new reductionist science of nature. 

Breeding 'super-trees': the ultimate reductionism 

The forest crisis was an outcome of a reductionist forestry which viewed the 
forest as a timber mine, not as a central, mechanism in soil and water 
conservation. The separation of the life-giving and life -maintaining functions of 
the forest from its commercial value has thus led to the destruction of the 
essential ecological processes to which forests and trees contribute. 

The struggles of women, tribals and peasants, guided by a perception of the 
forest as a life-support system, are coinciding with failed projects of 
maldevelopment - of non-sustainable agricultural and energy policies. It is easy 
to invoke the environmental crisis and the poor people's energy crisis to open up 
new avenues for reductionist science and commodity production. The entry of 
biotechnologies in forestry for instance is guided by 

the incentive provided by the knowledge that fossil fuels must run out 
and that a need exists for new commodities to improve the profitability 


of agriculture, encourages the development of new biomass crops as 
energy sources for the failure. Most projections for increased crop 
production rely on the new biotechnologies that promise to introduce 
the grand period of the 'science power' phase of agriculture. Hence, land 
and other resources should not constrain the development of biomass as 
a renewable energy source for the future. 36 

The new technologies and the new aid programmes in forestry are 
motivated by the future existence of markets for biomass-based 
industrial and commercial energy of the era beyond fossil fuels. As 
Flavin predicts in the 1986 State of the World report, 'Oil will have been 
largely eliminated as a fuel for power plants and many industries.’ 37 

The fuel-gathering Third World woman will once again be bypassed by the 
new sources of energy which will be produced on the land which gave her food 
and fodder and fuel. Industrial energy from weeds will be derived at the cost of 
sustenance needs that land in the Third World now satisfies. 

The reductionist mind further entrenches colonisation. The dys-junction 
process, which underlies the existing ecological and economic chaos, is then 
applied at newer and deeper levels to resolve the chaos; all it achieves, instead, is 
further irreversible chaos. The breakdown of ecological cycles for example, is 
reduced to the problem of planting trees. The cycles recede, trees become a 
universal solution, and as a universal solution can only be engineered for a 
market which must go against nature, hastening the breakdown and making 
recovery less possible. Ecological crises signal the breakdown of scientific 
arrogance - the crisis mind turns this into yet another domain for its colonisation, 
promising new miracles and inducing the closure of options even while they 
exist. Tissue culture - as opposed to forest culture - is now proposed as the 
afforestation strategy of the future in India. But this solution works only through 
the logic of uniformity or indifference to the diversity of life in nature. Tissue 
culture will be the ultimate triage of the earth in its diversity, and of her people 
in their diversity. 

The organic recovery of nature cannot be a recovery of reductionism. The 
machine cannot be a metaphor for nature without sundering it apart, because 
nature is not mechanistic and Cartesian. The ecological crisis suggests the 
indispensability of nature and the impossibility of substituting its life-support 
processes. The reductionist response to eco-crises assures an extension of the 
logic of dispensability: it presupposes that life-support can be manufactured in 


the laboratory and factory. In fact, in the reductionist response to the ecological 
crisis, the lab and factory merge, the distinction between science and business 
blurs. With engineering entering the life-sciences, the renewability of life as a 
self-reproducing system comes to an end. Life must be engineered now, not 
reproduced. A new commodity set is created as inputs, and a new commodity is 
created as output. Life itself is the new commodity. Linkages that lay within 
nature to create conditions for self-renewal are destroyed, and in their place 
come linkages of the market and multinationals. The ultimate masculinist 
perception of trees as money is captured in Greenwood's statement, 'Knocking 
even one year off this interval has a net present value well into millions of 
dollars for organisations that own and plant large acreages.’ 38 

The breeding strategy is to search for trees with 'superior' characteristics. 
From nature providing its own seed, the laboratories of multinationals will 
become the new monopolies for the supply of seed and seedlings. This 
centralised, global control leads to a new colonisation of nature and its 
commons, and will lead to new degrees of homogeneity and uniformity. In 
clonal propagation, all members of a clone are genetically identical. This 
uniformity in trees as resources allows the Taylorism logic to enter forest man- 
agement at an even deeper level than the monoculture plantation of the same 
species. The uniformity assumes a greater dispensability of species that the 
market and industry consider 'inferior'. And linked with the imperative of 
genetic engineering to dispense with species other than its favourites, is the 
political economy of dispensing with the small person and her needs for 
survival. As Hollowell and Porterfield point out, for the genetic 'improvement' 
of tree stands, a land base of 150,000 to 200,000 acres or more is required to 
assure an acceptable rate of return. 39 According to them, 

... gains in desired traits are most meaningful when converted to 
economic gains. Growth gains may be expressed as obtaining more 
volume per acre for a given rotation or reaching rotation volume and/or 
desired piece size at an earlier age. Economics will favour the shorter 
rotation. Straightness improvement is reflected in increased yield of 
lumber or veneer per unit volume of raw material. Increases in wood 
specific gravity can result in improved fibre yields or higher grade 

Once quantified, incremental gains can be converted into higher 
expected values using a forecast of future produce prices. Timing of 


expected gains is necessary to construct a cash flow stream for 
economic analysis. 

Resource flows to maintain nature's cycles and local needs of water and 
diverse vegetation have been replaced by cash-flows as a measure of 'yield' and 
'growth'. Nature's ecology, its yields and growth are further pushed aside. The 
market and factory define the 'improvement' sought through the new 
biotechnologies. This reductionism induced by global markets for wood 
resources is the ultimate violence, when super-firms decide which super-trees 
are useful. Nature's integrity and diversity and people's needs are thus 
simultaneously violated. 

Susan Griffin, in Woman and Nature, parodied the reductionist mind when 
she wrote: 

The trees in the forest should be tall and free from knot-causing limbs 
for most of their height. They should be straight. Trees growing in the 
forest should be useful trees. For each tree ask if it is worth the space it 
grows in. Aspen, scrub pine, chokeberry, black gum, scrub oak, 
dogwood, hemlock, beech are weed trees which should be eliminated. 

For harvesting trees, it is desirable that a stand be all of the same 
variety and age. Nothing should grow on the forest floor, not seedling 
trees, not grass, not shrubbery . 40 

She contrasts this uniformity with the logic of diversity in the forest as feminine. 
The voices of women join the voices of nature. 

The way we stand, you can see we have grown up this way together, out 
of the same soil, with the same rains, leaning in the same way toward the 
sun.... And we are various and amazing in our variety, and our 
differences multiply, so that edge after edge of the endlessness of 
possibility is exposed. You know we have grown this way for years. 
And to no purpose you can understand. Yet what you fail to know we 
know, and the knowing is in us, how we have grown this way, why these 
years were not one of them heedless, why we are shaped the way we are, 
not all straight to your purpose, but to ours. And how we are each 
purpose, how each cell, how light and soil are in us, how we are in the 
soil, how we are in the air, how we are both infinitesimal and great and 


how we are infinitely without any puipose you can see, in the way we 
stand, each moment heeded in this cycle, no detail unlovely. 

It is such a recovery of life in diversity, of a diversity shared and protected 
that the invisible Chipko struggles for. Giving value and significance to Prakriti, 
to nature as the source, to the smallest element of nature in its renewal, giving 
value to collective needs, not private action, women in Kangad, Sevalgaon, 
Rawatgaon work in partnership with nature to recreate and regenerate. Without 
signboards, without World Bank loans, without wire -fencing, they are working 
to allow nature's play in reproducing the life of the forest - grasses and shrubs, 
small trees and big, each useful to nature if not to man, are all coming alive 

Recovering diversity, recovering the commons 

At an altitude of 6,000 ft., deep in the Balganga Valley in Garhwal lies Kangad, 
a hamlet of 200 families. In 1977, the already degraded forest of Kangad was 
marked for felling by the forest department. The women, who had to walk long 
distances for fuel, fodder and water, were determined to save the last patch of 
trees. The men of Kangad were employed by the forest department for felling 
operations. With the gender fragmentation of the interests of the village 
community - the women representing the conservation interests, and the men 
representing the exploitation demand - launching Chipko was not easy. The 
women contacted Bimla Bahuguna in Silyara, just 15 kms from Kangad. Bimla 
Behn, with Chipko activists Dhoom Singh Negi and Pratap Shihar, came to 
support the women's struggle. After four months of resistance, the women suc- 
ceeded in saving their forest. 

The women's organisation, the Mahila Mandal Dal, then decided to 
regenerate the degraded forests. On the basis of cattle owned by each family, 
contributions were raised to support a village forest guard who was paid Rs.300 
per month. For three years the arrangement worked and then failed because the 
watchman became inefficient and corrupt: he would allow some people to 
extract fodder and fuelwood. Once the women learnt of this, they unanimously 
decided to abolish the post of the forest guard and guard the forest themselves. 


Now the Mahila Mandal has allocated duties to a group of village women. 
About ten or twelve women are on duty every day, allocated in such a manner 
that the work is distributed among all the families. Thus the duty for one family 
or group of women comes in a cycle of 15 to 20 days. As one woman said, 'On 
these days we leave our own work and protect the forest because our oak trees 
are like our children.' Oak trees are now generating naturally in Kangad. 

Once, when a Gujjar grazier allowed his goats to graze in the regenerated 
area, the women confiscated the goats and fined the Gujjar Rs. 200. Villagers are 
fined upto Rs. 50 per person for lopping the regenerating oak and Rs.100 for 
cutting trees for firewood. On another occasion, when a fire threatened to 
destroy the forest, all the women joined hands to put out the forest fire. AS one 
woman reported, 'The men were at home, but they decided to stay back rather 
than join with us to put out the fire. The men are least bothered about saving 
trees.' In 1986, the Mahila Mandal decided to assist the forest department in tree 
planting. They dug 15,000 pits but found that the forest department wanted to 
plant only poplars. The women refused to plant this exotic, and forced the forest 
department to bring diverse indigenous fodder species instead. 

The strength of nature and the strength of women is the basis of the recovery 
of the forest as commons in Kangad. The capital is not debt and aid. The market 
is not the guiding force. Nature's and women's energy are the capital, and local 
needs of water, food, fodder and fuel provide the organising principle of 
managing a shared, living resource. This is merely a renewal of the conservation 
ethic and conservation work of hill women, that they think of the needs of their 
families. This is symbolised by their putting aside some leaves for Patna Devi 
(the goddess of the leaves) each time they go to collect fodder. These are small, 
perhaps invisible, but significant steps towards the recovery of the feminine 
principle in the forest. This recovery re-establishes the integration of forestry 
with food production and water management and it allows the possibility of a 
re-emergence of the diversity and integrity of life in the forest, of fauna and 
flora, of plants big and small, each crucial to the life of the forest, each valuable 
in itself, each having a right to participate in the democracy of the forest's life, 
and each contributing in invisible, unknown ways to all life. Diversity of living 
resources in the forest, natural or in an agro-ecosystem, is critical to soil and 
water conservation, it is critical for satisfying the diversity of needs of people 
who depend on the forest, and the diversity of nature's needs in reproducing 


The annihilation of this diversity has destroyed women's control over 
conditions of producing sustenance. The many colonisations -through 'reserved' 
forests, through 'social forestry', through 'wasteland' development - have implied 
not forest development but the maldevelopment of both forestry and agriculture. 
A maldeveloped forestry has meant new resources and raw material supplies for 
industry and commerce; for nature and women it has meant a new 
impoverishment, a destruction of the diverse means of production through which 
both provide sustenance in food and water, and reproduce society. The Chipko 
struggle is a struggle to recover the hidden and invisible productivity of vital 
resources, and the invisible productivity of women, to recover their entitlements 
and rights to have and provide nourishment for sustained survival, and to create 
ecological insights and political spaces that do not destroy fundamental rights to 
survival. Chipko women provide a nonviolent alternative in forestry to the 
violence of reductionist forestry with its inherent logic of dispensability. They 
have taken the first steps towards recovering their status-as the other 
silviculturists and forest managers, who participate in nature's processes instead 
of working against them, and share nature's wealth for basic needs instead of 
privatising it for profit. 


1 Rabindranath Tagore, Tapovan (Hindi), Tikamgarh: Gandhi Bhavan, 
undated, pp. 1-2. 

2 W.C. Beane, Myth, Cult and Symbols in Sakta Hinduism, Leiden: EJ. Brill, 
1977, p. 118, states, 'We submit that the Dravidian goddess Kali was already 
a divinity as well as a personification of "forest phenomena' V and quotes 
Tucci as saying that Durga is a mothergoddess originating in theVindhyas as 
the'vivifying force of the forest'. 

3 Quoted in Beane, op. cit, p. 57. 

4 G.B. Pant, The Forest Problem in Kumaon (reprint), Nainital: Gyanodaya 

5 Norman Myers, The Primary Source, New York: W.W. Norton, 1984, p. 13. 

6 S.C. Banerjee, Flora and Fauna in Sanskrit Literature, Calcutta: Naya 
Prakash, 1980. 

7 Quoted in Banerjee, op. cit., p. 16. 


8 Quoted in M.S. Randhawa, A History of Agriculture in India; New Delhi: 
Indian Council for Agricultural Research, 1980, p. 97. 

9 Quoted in Randhawa, op. cit., p. 99. 

10 Ibid., p. 99. 

1 1 E.T. Atkinson, Himalayan Gazetteer, Vol. Ill, Allahabad: Government 
Press, 1882, p. 852. 

12 E.P. Stebbing, The Forests of India (reprint), New Delhi: AJ. Reprints 
Agency, 1982, p. 61. 

13 J. Bandyopadhyay, et. at, The Doon Valley Ecosystem, mimeo, 1983. 

14 Stebbing, op. cit., p. 65. 

15 F.B. Golley, Productivity and Mineral Cycling in Tropical Forests' 
Productivity of World Ecogstems, Washington: National Academy of 
Sciences, 1975, pp. 106-15. 

16 James A. Bethel, 'Sometimes the word is "Weed",' in Forest Management, 
June, 1984, pp. 17-22. 

17 J. Bandyopadhyay & M. Moench, 'Local Needs and Forest Resource 
Management in the Himalaya', in Bandyopadhyay et al., India's 
Environment: Crisis and Responses: Dehradun: Natraj Publishers, 1985, 

18 J. Bandyopadhyay & V. Shiva.'Chipko: Politics of Ecology'in Seminar, No. 
330, 1987. 

19 R.S. Bishnoi, conservation as Creed, Dehradun: Jugal Kishore, 1987, letter 
from Gandhi to Mirabehn, Jan. 16, 1948. 

20 The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 90, New Delhi: Government 
of India Publications, 1984. 

21 Mira Behn, 'Something Wrong in the Himalaya', mimeo, undated. 

* Quercus incana and Celtis australis. 

22 Birnla and Sunderlal Bahuguna, "Twelve Years of Working in Villages' in 
Uttarkband Smarika Chamba: Uttrakhand Sarvodaya Mandal, 1969. 

23 Uttar ke Shikharo Mein Cbetnci ke Ankur, New Delhi: Himalaya Seva 
Sangh, 1975 p, 129. 

24 S.L. Bahuguna, 'Water is the Primary Product of the Hill Forests', interview 
in Henwalika, Yuvak Sangh, Jajal, Tehri Garhwal, 1980-81. 


25 Sarala Behn, 'From Revolt to Construction' in Uttar ke Shikharo Mein 
Cbetnci ke Ankur. 

26 Sarala Behn, 'A Blueprint for Survival of the Hills', supplement to 
Himalaya: Man and Nature, New Delhi: Himalaya Seva Sangh, 1980. 

27 Quoted in Bimla Bahuguna, 'Contribution of Women to the Chipko 
Movement', in Indian Farming, November 1975. 

28 Quoted in Bimla Bahuguna op. cit., 1975. 

29 V. Shiva, H.C. Sharatchandra & J. Bandyopadhyay, The Social, Ecological 
and Economic Impact of Social Forestry in Kolar, (mimeo), Indian Institute 
of management, Bangalore, 1981; V. Shiva, H.C. Sharatchandra & J. 
Bandyopadhyay, 'The Challenge of Social Forestry' in W. Fernandes & S. 
Kulkarm (eds.) Towards a New Forest Policy, New Delhi: Indian Social 
institute, 1983; and V. Shiva, H.C. Sharatchandra &J. Bandyopadhyay, 'No 
Solution Within the Market, 'in Ecologist, October 1982. 

* Pongcimia globra, Azadiracbta indica, Tamarindus indica, Autocarpus 
integrifolia, Mcmgifera indica, Acacia fernesiana and Acacia catechu. 

30 V. Shiva & J. Bandyopadhyay, Ecological Audit of Eucalyptus Cultivation, 
Dehmdun: EBD Publishers, 1985. 

31 Chattrapati Singh, Common Property and common Poverty, Delhi: Oxford 
Publishing House, 1985, p. 2. 

32 N.S. Jodha, 'Common Property Resources', mimeo, 1986. 

33 R.H. Baden-Powell, Land Revenue in British India, London: Oxford, 1907. 

34 J. Baker, Eighth Settlement Report, Dehradun, 1888. 

35 G. Hardin, 'The Tragedy of the Commons', in Science, Vol. 162, December 
1968, pp. 1243-48, 

36 W.H. Smith, 'Energy from Biomass: A New Commodity', in J.W. 
Rosenblum (ed.) Agriculture in the 21st Century, New York: John Wiley 
and Sons, 1 §83. 

37 C. Flavin, 'moving Beyond Oil', in State of the World, Washington: World 
Watch, 1986, pp. 78-97. 

38 M.S. Greenwood, 'Shortening Generations', in Journal of Forestry, January 
1986, p. 38. 

39 R.R. Hollo well & R.L. Porterfield, 'Is Tree Improvement a Good 
Investment? Yes, if You've got the Time and Money', in journal o/Forestry, 
February 1986, p. 46. 


40 Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature , London: The Women's Press, 1984. 


5. Women in the Food Chain 

Green revolution: a western paradigm 

Nature and women have historically been the primary food providers in natural 
farming, based on sustainable flows of fertility from forests and farm animals to 
croplands. The food system has always included the forest and animal systems in 
its processes. The women of Chipko fight for their forests primarily as peasants 
whose productivity in agriculture depends centrally on inputs from the forest, 
either directly as fertilizer to the soil, or indirectly as fodder for their cattle, 
which in turn produce fertilizer for fields. The feminine principle of food 
production is based on the intimate links between trees, animals and crops, and 
on the work of women in maintaining these links. Women's work in agriculture 
has traditionally been work in integrating forestry and animal husbandry with 
farming. Agriculture modelled on nature and based on women's participation 
with nature has been self- reproducing and sustainable because the internally 
recycled resources provide the necessary inputs for seeds, soil moisture, soil 
nutrients, and pest control. 

The masculinist paradigm of food production which has come to us under 
the many labels of 'green revolution', 'scientific agriculture', etc. involves the 
disruption of the essential links between forestry, animal husbandry and 
agriculture, which have been the basis of the sustainable model. The renewable 
base of agriculture provided by women through carrying green manure and 
fodder to farms and carrying compost and organic matter to fields has been 
destroyed by reductionist agriculture which replaces renewable inputs from the 
farm by non-renewable inputs from factories, and displaces women's work in 
providing sustainable inputs with the work of men and machines to produce 
hazardous agri-chemicals as inputs to green revolution agriculture. 


This paradigm, which results in the disruption of nature's ecological cycles 
and displaces women from maintaining those cycles, sees this process of 
fragmentation as one of increasing efficiency. Market efficiency and profits do 
increase through fragmentation, but at the cost of nature's capital in fertile and 
living soils and the destruction of women's work in keeping the inherent fertility 
of soils alive. From seeing farming as a process of nurturing the earth to 
maintain her capacity to provide food, a masculinist shift takes place which sees 
farming as a process of generating profits. Ecologlical destruction is one 
inevitable result of this commercial outlook. Economic deprivation is the other, 
because production for profits instead of needs excludes larger numbers of 
women and peasants from food production and even larger numbers of women, 
children and the poor from entitlements to food. The fact that larger numbers of 
the poor in the Third World are victims of hunger and famine today is intimately 
related to a patriarchal model of progress which sees sales and profits as 
indicators of well-being and thus destroys the real well-being of people. 

It is from the ecological perspective, that focusses on nature and needs, that 
it is possible to see that what has been called scientific agriculture and the green 
revolution is in reality a western patriarchal anti-nature model of agriculture, 
which shifts the control of food systems from women and peasants to food and 
agri-business multinationals and disrupts natural processes. In the ecological 
perspective, it is impossible to see food production as distinct from forests, water 
and animal systems. Movements by rural women to protect forests or rivers have 
always been rooted in protecting their agricultural base: for the Chipko women, 
forests provide food, and the movement to protect them is a movement to 
provide food to their families, their cattle (which they perceive as an extension 
of the human family) and their soils. In 1974, when the women of Reni protected 
their forest they told the contractors' men: 'This forest is our mother's home. 
When we have food scarcity, we come here to collect fruits for our children. We 
collect herbs and ferns and mushrooms. Do not cut this forest, otherwise we will 
embrace the trees and protect them with our lives.' in 1986, Chipko women of 
Nahi Kala were protecting their forests for food production. As Chamundeyi 
said, 'We need our forests for growing mandua, jhanjora, rajma, adrcik and 
mirch to feed our families and ourselves.' And throughout the hill areas, women 
sing: 'Give me an oak forest and I will give you pots full of milk and baskets full 
of grain.' 


The link between forests and food is clear to the women who produce food 
in partnership with trees and animals. The patriarchal model, in contrast, sees 
forestry as independent of agriculture, and reduces the multiple outputs of the 
forest including fertilizer and fodder, into a single product -commercial wood. 
Animals are no longer seen as providing fertilizer and energy for agriculture, and 
through the 'white revolution', animal husbandry is reduced to the production of 
milk for the centralised dairy industry. Organic inputs from forests and animals 
are no longer seen as mechanisms for conserving soil moisture; large dams 
become the patriarchal option for providing water for food production. Organic 
manure is no longer a fertilizer; it is fertilizer factories that are seen to be the 
only source of soil fertility. Rich soils and appropriate cropping patterns are no 
longer mechanisms for pest control; poisons for killing pests become an 
inevitable component of patriarchal agriculture. The destruction of forests as a 
hand-maiden of agriculture has already been discussed in Chapter 4; the 
destruction of water systems as a result of demands of green revolution farming 
will be discussed in Chapter 6; in this chapter we will look at how seeds, soil 
fertility and pest control have ceased to be provided largely by women as 
internal resources of the farm, and are now produced by a handful of 
agri-business companies. It will also analyse how the rupture of agriculture from 
animal husbandry and the reductionist evolution of each through the green and 
white revolutions has violated nature's balance and women's productivity, as 
well as people's right to food. 

The displacement of women from food production 

For more than forty centuries, Third World peasants, often predominantly 
women, have innovated in agriculture. Crops have crossed continents, crop 
varieties have been improved, patterns of rotational and mixed cropping have 
been evolved to match the needs of the crop community and the ecosystem. 
These decentred innovations have been lasting and sustainable. They stayed 
because they struck an ecological balance. Peasants as experts, as plant breeders, 
as soil scientists, as water managers, have kept the world fed all these centuries. 

Twenty years ago, forty centuries of knowledge of agriculture began to be 
eroded and erased as the green revolution, designed by multinational 
corporations and western male experts, homogenised nature's diversity and the 
diversity of human knowledge on a reductionist pattern of agriculture, evolved 
by global research centres like the International Rice Research Institute, (IRRI) 


in the Philippines and the CIMMYT (the international Maize and Wheat 
Improvement Centre) in Mexico. Thirteen such institutes exist today run by 
CGIAR (the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research). 'Table 
1 lists some important agricultural research institutions. 


International agricultural research institutions 





IRRI (1960) 

Los Banos, 

Rice under irrigation; 

W orld wide, special 

International Rice 


multiple cropping sys- 

emphasis in 

Research Institute 

terns; upland rice 


CIMMYT (1964) 

El Batan, 

wheat (also triticale, 


International Cen- 


barley); maize 

tre for the 
Improvement of 
Maize and Wheat 
IITA (1965) 

Ibadan, NigeriaFarming systems; 

Worldwide in low 

International Insti- 

cereals (rice and 

land tropics, spe 

tute of Tropical 

maize as regional 

cial emphasis in 


relay stations for IRRI 


Cl AT (1968) 


and CIMMYT); grain 
legume (cow-pea, 
soyabean, lima bean, 
pigeon-pea), root and 
tuber crops, cassava, 
sweet potatoes, yams 
Beef; cassava, field 

Worldwide in low 

International Cen- 


beans; Farming sy-s- 

land tropics, spe 

ter for Tropical 

terns; swine (minor); 

cial emphasis in 


maize and rice 



(regional relay stations America 

to CIMMYT and 


WARDA (1971) 


Regional cooperative 

West Africa 

West African Rice 


effort in adaptive rice 


research among 113 


nations with IITA and 

IRRI support 

CIP (1972) 

Lima, Peru 

Potatoes (for both 

worldwide, includ- 

(International Potato 

tropics and temperate 

ing linkages with 





ICRISAT (1972) 


Sorghum; pearl millet, Worldwide, special 

International Crop 


pigeon-pea; chick-pea; emphasis on dry, 

Research Institute 

farming systems; 

semi -arid tropics, 

for the Semi-Arid 





IB PGR (1973) 

FAO, Rome, 

Conservation of plant 


international Board 


genetic material with 

for Plant Genetic 

special reference to 





IRRI finances according to source (1961-1980) 

(U.S. dollars) 





Year(s) of grant 

Ford Foundation 




Rockefeller Foundation 








International Organizations 



Asian Development Bank 



European Economic Community 



Fertilizer Development Center 
Foundation for International 



Potash Research 
International Board for Plant 



Genetic Resources 
International Center of Insect 



Physiology and Ecology 
International Development 



Research Center 
International Development 






International Fund for Agricultural 




International Potash Institute/ 
Potash Institute of 



North America 





Fertilizer Development Center 



OPEC Special Fund 






UN Economic and Social 

UN Food and Agriculture 

Organization (FAO) 



UN Environment Program 



UN Development Program 


1974-78, 1978. 

World Phosphate Rock Institute 



National governments 















Federal Republic 
of Germany 











1971-77, 1979-80 




The Netherlands 



New Zealand 


1973, 1976-78 




Saudi Arabia 









United Kingdom 









Boots Company 



Chevron Chemicals 













Dow Chemical 



Eli Lilly & Co (ELANCO) 
Esso Engineering and 



Research Company 






Gulf Research and 

Development Company 







Imperial Chemical Industries 




International Business 

Machines Corp. (IBM) 



International Minerals 

and Chemical Corp. 






Minnesota Mining and 
Manufacturing Company 





1967, 1969, 






Occidental Chemical 



Pittsburg Plate Glass Co. 



Plant Protection Ltd 



Shell Chemical Company 





Stauffer Chemical Company 




Union Carbide 



Uniroyal Chemical 







Government agencies 



National Institute of Health (US) 
National Food and Agriculture 



Council (Philippines) 

National Science Development 



Board (Philippines) 

Philippine Council for 
Agricultural Resources and 












East- West Center (Hawaii) 



University Hohenheirn (Stuttgart) 



United Nations University 









Source: International Rice Research Institute, Annual Report from 1962-1980 

In 1941, the Rockefeller Foundation established a research centre near 
Mexico City primarily devoted to plant breeding, that in 1961 took the name 
CIMMW (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre). By the late 
1950s the Centre created HYV wheat which later provided the basis of the green 
revolution in India. Private capital and global aid provided the inputs for the 
capital intensive, resource intensive, profit oriented farming of the green 

The very meaning of agriculture was transformed with the introduction of 
the western green revolution paradigm. It was no longer an activity that worked 
towards a careful maintenance of nature's capital in fertile soils and provided 
society with food and nutrition. It became an activity aimed primarily at the 
production of agricultural commodities for profit. With the shift in the nature of 


the activity came a shift in the nature of the actors; nature, women and peasants 
were no longer seen as primary producers of food. The shift from thinking in the 
context of nature's economy and the survival economy, to thinking exclusively 
in the context of the market economy, created the specificity of the hybrid seeds, 
chemical fertilizers and pesticides, mechanisation and large scale irrigation. 
These technologies were responses to the need for maximising profits from 
agriculture. They were aimed neither at protecting the soil and maintaining its 
fertility, nor at making food available to all as a basic human right or providing 
livelihoods in food production. The emergence of a new breed of agricultural 
'experts'with fragmented knowledge of individual components of the farm sys- 
tem, and with a total integration of this fragmented knowledge with the market 
system, led to the displacement of the traditional agricultural experts - women 
and peasants. 

Women were the world's original food producers, and continue to be central 
to food production systems in the Third World in terms of the work they do in 
the food chain. In agriculture - as in other sciences and areas of economic 
activity, women's scientific and economic contribution has been obscured by the 
male writing of history and anthropology, and by the use of the market and 
profits as a patriarchal base for the evaluation of the significance of 
technologies. Feminist scholarship has now begun to focus on the hidden 
contribution of women to plant and animal domestication when human societies 
made a transition from gathering/hunting to agricultural and nomadic ways of 
life, paradigm of man-the hunter based on assumptions of male dominance, 
competition, exploitation and aggression is slowly giving way to alternative 
perceptions which allow a recognition of the contribution of woman - 
the -gatherer, and the interdependence of the sexes in making survival possible 
through co-operation and nurturing. As Lee and De Vore 2 have pointed out, the 
contribution of women to food provisioning in gathering/hunting societies was 
80 per cent while hunting yielded only 20 per cent. Because food collection 
required a thorough knowledge of plant and animal growth, maturation and 
fruition or reproduction, women have been credited with the discovery of 
domestication and cultivation of plants and animals. Food-gathering inventions 
attributable to women are the digging stick (precursor of the plough), the 
carrying sling, the sickle and other knives. The mortar, the pounder, the drying, 
roasting, grinding, fermenting technologies, the storage of food in baskets or 
clay-lined storage pits are all inventions connected with food processing and 


preservation that are still alive in self provisioning societies. Murdock's 
ethnographic atlas 3 , in one half of the 142 advanced horticultural societies, 
farming was the exclusive domain of women, and it was shared on an equal 
footing with men in another 27 per cent. Only in slightly more than one -fifth of 
these societies was agriculture the sole responsibility of men. Women 
domesticated plants and animals and invented selective breeding. They 
discovered propagation by shoots and cuttings, seed selection and the 
construction of seedling beds. Stanley 4 lists the following inventions credited to 
women in cultivation: the use of ash as fertilizer; the creation of work tools such 
as the hoe, spade, shovel and simple plough; fallowing and crop rotation; 
mulching, terracing, contour planting, irrigation and land recuperation through 
tree planting. She says that the eight most important cereals (wheat, rice, maize, 
barley, oats, sorghum, millet and rye) were all domesticated by women. 

The worldwide destruction of the feminine knowledge of agriculture, 
evolved over four to five thousand years, by a handful of white male scientists in 
less than two decades has not merely violated women as experts; since their 
expertise in agriculture has been related to modelling agriculture on nature's 
methods of renewability, its destruction has gone hand in hand with the eco- 
logical destruction of nature's processes and the economic destruction of the 
poorer people in rural areas. 

Half a century ago. Sir Alfred Howard, the father of modern sustainable 
farming wrote in his classic, An Agricultural Testament, that, 'In the agriculture 
of Asia we find ourselves confronted with a system of peasant farming which, in 
essentials, soon became stabilized. What is happening today in the small fields 
of India and China took place many centuries ago. The agricultural practises of 
the Orient have passed the supreme test - they are almost as permanent as those 
of the primeval forest, of the prairie, or of the ocean’. 5 Howard identified the 
principles of sustainable agriculture as those of renewability as seen in the 
primeval forest. An Agricultural Testament is a record of practises that had 
maintained the soil fertility of India over centuries. Historical records indicate 
that the alluvial soils of the Gangetic plains have produced fair crops year after 
year, without falling in fertility. According to Howard, this has been possible 
because a perfect balance had been reached between the manurial requirements 
of crops harvested and natural processes which recuperate fertility. The 
conservation of soil fertility has been achieved through a combination of mixed 
and rotational, cropping with leguminous crops, a balance between livestock and 


crops, shallow and light ploughing, and organic manuring. John A. Voelker, too, 
had challenged the colonial belief that traditional agriculture was primitive and 
backward. Describing the perfection and permanence of Indian peasant farming 
he wrote: , Nowhere would one find better instances of keeping land scrupu- 
lously clean from weeds, of ingenuity in device of water-raising appliances, of 
knowledge of soils and their capabilities, as well as of the exact time to sow and 
reap, as one would find in Indian agriculture. It is wonderful, too, how much is 
known of rotation, the system of "mixed crops" and of fallowing ... 1, at least, 
have never seen a more perfect picture of cultivation.' 6 

People, cattle and living things derive nutrition from the soil through plants, 
trees and vegetation. Returning nutrition to the earth is therefore central to 
maintaining the food cycle and sustaining the productivity of the soil. The 
central role of farm animals in Indian agriculture came from the recognition that 
we cannot have an exploitative relationship with the earth; it must be one of reci- 
procity. That is why men, cattle and trees have been treated as an integral unit in 
maintaining the food cycle; Kamadhenu, the sacred cow, and Kalpataru, the 
sacred tree have been the inviolable links of the inviolable food chain in Indian 
agriculture. 7 

Howard saw in India's peasants a knowledge of farming far more advanced 
than that of the west. He recognised the secret of India's sustainable land use as 
lying in the return of organic matter and humus to the soil. A balance between 
livestock and crops was always kept in order to maintain the food cycle and 
return organic matter to the soil. The method of mixed cropping is part of the 
adaptation of nature's ways in which cereal crops like millet, wheat, barley and 
maize are mixed with pulses, providing nutrition to each other, and thus a 
balanced diet to people. Mixtures of crops give better results than monocultures; 
Howard notes that, 'Here we have another instance where the peasants of the 
East have anticipated and acted upon the solution of one of the problems which 
western science is only now beginning to recognise.' 8 

Rotational cropping is another strategy for maintaining the nutritional 
balance in the soil, especially with leguminous plants like pulses, although it was 
not till 1888, after a protracted controversy lasting thirty years, that western 
science finally accepted the important part played by pulse crops in enriching the 

Shallow and superficial ploughing was the fourth aspect of sustainable land 
use. It was recognized that too much cultivation and deep ploughing would 


oxidise the reserves of organic matter in the soil and the balance of soil fertility 
would soon be destroyed. The concept of the sacred earth as inviolable was also 
a constraint in over-use and destruction of the soil. Women's productive work on 
the farm has therefore been crucial to sustainable food production, it has been 
based on contributions to the land, not just exploitation of and benefit from it. in 
a paradigm that sees 'productivity' only in terms of output for markets and 
profits, contributing to the soil's organic fertility for sustainable land use is 
rendered invisible and unproductive. It is precisely because these essential links 
in the food chain have been ignored and destroyed by 'developed' and 'scientific' 
agriculture that the croplands of the world are rapidly being turned into deserts. 

Women's work in organic agriculture also supports the work of decomposers 
and soil-builders which inhabit the soil. Organic manure is food for the 
community of living beings which depend on the soil. Soils treated with 
farmyard manure have from two to two -and-a-half times as many earthworms 
as untreated soils. Farmyard manure encourages the build-up of earthworms 
through increasing their food supply, whether they feed directly on it or on the 
micro-organisms it supports. Earthworms contribute to soil fertility by 
maintaining soil stri icture, aeration and drainage and by breaking down organic 
matter and incorporating it into the soil. The work of earthworms in soil 
formation was Darwin's major concern in later years. When finishing his book 
on earthworms he wrote: 'It may be doubted whether there are many other 
animals which have played so important a part in the history of creatures.' 9 The 
little earthworm working invisibly in the soil is actually the tractor and fertilizer 
factory and dam combined. Worm-worked soils are more water stable than 
unworked soils, and worminhabited soils have considerably more organic 
carbon and nitrogen than parent soils. By their continuous movement through 
soils, earthworms make for the formation of channels which help in soil 
aeration. It is estimated that they increase soil-air volume by upto 30 per cent. 
Soils with earthworms drain four to ten times faster than soil without 
earthworms and their water-holding capacity is higher by 20 per cent. 
Earthworm casts, which can be 4-36 tons dry weight/acre/year contain more 
nutritive materials containing carbon, nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, potassium, 
sodium and phosphorous than the parent soil. Their work on the soil promotes 
microbial activity which is essential to the fertility of most soils. Yet the 
earthworm was never seen as a worker in 'scientific' agriculture. 10 The woman 
peasant who works invisibly with the earthworm in building soil fertility has 


also not been seen as doing ‘productive’ work or providing an 'input' to the food 
economy. We need to look beyond the mentality that tells us that fertility is 
'bought' from fertilizer companies; we need to look beyond the fertilizer factory 
for maintaining soil fertility; and we need to recover the work of women and 
peasants who work with nature, not against her. In regions of India which have 
not yet been colonised by the green revolution, women peasants continue to 
work as soil builders rather than soil predators, and it is from these remaining 
pockets of natural farming that the ecological struggles to protect nature are 

In sustainable agriculture based on maintaining the integrity and the fertility 
of the soil, women have played a major productive role, particularly in work 
linked to maintaining the food cycle. In feeding animals from trees or crop 
by-products, in nurturing cows and animals, in composting and fertilizing fields 
with organic manure, in managing mixed and rotation cropping, this critical 
work of maintaining ecological cycles was done by women, in partnership with 
the land, with trees, with animals and with men. Singh" has made estimates of 
the different kinds of work a woman in the hill areas of the Garhwal Himalaya 
currently puts into agricultural operations which are dependent on organic 
inputs. A woman's work is more than that of men and farm animals. For a one 
hectare farm, women put in 640 hours for interculture operations like weeding; 
384 hours for irrigation; 650 hours for transporting organic manure and 
transferring it to the field; 557 hours for seed sowing (with men) and 984 hours 
for harvesting and threshing. Surveys have shown that in this hill region, a pair 
of bullocks works for 1,064 hours, men for 1,212 hours and women for 3,485 
hours on a one hectare farm. Bhati and Singh, in a study in neighbouring 
Himachal Pradesh 12 show that women do 37 per cent of the work in sowing, 59 
per cent in interculture (including weeding, hoeing, irrigation, etc.), 66 per cent 
in harvesting, 59 per cent in threshing and 69 per cent in tending farm animals. 
In terms of overall farm work they put in 61 per cent of the total. K. 
Saradamoni's study 13 of women agricultural labourers and cultivators in three 
rice growing states - Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal - challenges the view 
that the male agricultural labourer is the real worker, breadwinner and supporter 
of women and children. Through their work, knowledge and skills, both 
categories of women make crucial contributions to the production and 
processing of rice, and their contributions have a nurturant quality. As 
Saradamoni observes, the women involved in the study revealed their 


'knowledge about cultivation and their concern and participation. They have 
shown a tenderness to paddy crop and fields almost similar to what they would 
show to their own children.' She concludes that without these women, their 
households would not have survived, yet their work is unrecognised and, too 
often, uncounted and unrecorded. 

Women's and nature's work and productivity are rendered invisible when 
agricultural development becomes a project of western capitalist patriarchy. 
Each increase in 'productivity' in this system is a decrease in the productivity of 
women as food producers and processors. With the green revolution food from 
fish in rice fields is destroyed by poisonous pesticides, and reeds for fibre and 
rope making are destroyed by weedicides. The little spaces which ensure 
sustenance are slowly closed as the world shrinks in its bounty. The shrinkage is 
always rooted in a reductionist attempt at 'growth'. Thus when wheat and rice are 
taken from the home to the mill, not only do women lose work, but society loses 
nutrition. Rice and white bran which are eaten in home -processed grain are 
destroyed by mechanised milling. The most nutritious part of the food is turned 
into waste because the efficiency of the machine for profit generation is the 
determining factor, not the efficiency of women for the generation of nutrition. 
A woman anthropologist at the International Rice Research Institute in the 
Philippines had the sensitivity to observe how male categories of 'efficiency' 
created the mechanisation imperative. Barog, a process of shaving off the 
already beaten stalks of rice to glean the grain that remains, used to be 
undertaken by women who did this in between childcare and cooking. They kept 
all the grain they got (none going to the owner of the field) which at times, was 
as high as 10 per cent of the total yield. Mechanising the barog process was 
inspired because the male IRRI scientists saw women's gain as a 'loss'. The 
woman anthropologist asks, 'How can IRRI defend counting barog gram as a 
"loss"? It is true that the field owner does not get his hands on it. But the fact that 
the grain passes out of his hands does not reflect the technical inefficiency of the 
traditional method. The barog gram is by no means lost either to the national 
economy or to the production system itself. Village families eat it - and, what 
makes our report more embarrassing, it is usually the poorest villagers that eat. 
At best our failure to credit the traditional system with this gain reflects an 
evaluation of rice in terms of money rather than consumable food.' 14 

Table 3 


Gender division of agricultural work in Himachal Pradesh, 1983-84 


Farm activity Marginal farms Small farms Otherfarms All farms 
Male Female Male Female Male Female Male Female 

Crop production 

Field Preparation 













































Threshing, etc 


















Tending of animals29 








Other farm work 









Total farm work 









* Includes weeding, hoeing, irrigation, etc. 

Source: CSS, Agro-Economic Research Centre, Simal (India) 

Mechanised processing and milling generate profits by first destroying the 
nutritional value of food and the productivity of women, and then by putting 
nutrition back into it through the processing industry. An advertisement for rice 
bran oil states: 'Did you know that your plate of rice has only half its nutrition? 
Yes! The other half is lost when rice is milled. That's the nutrition Harvest pure 
refined rice oil puts back into your meal. Making your meal complete.' Women's 
expertise and role in food production and processing is displaced with 'Japanese 
knowhow' which packs into a plastic bottle the nutrition that Third World rural 
women conserve through their traditional food processing technologies.As the 
image of women is transformed from being conservers and producers to being 
consumers, their productive roles in agriculture recede further into invisibility. 
In other parts of the Third World also, women are found to work more than men 
in the food system. White's study of rural Java noted that women of 15 years and 


over worked an average of 1 1 . 1 hours per day, compared to 8.7 hours for men. In 
annual terms, women worked for 4,056 hours and men for 3,173. Quizon and 
Evenson and King have reported that in the Philippines too, women put in more 
total work-time than men. 15 

In Africa, basic food production continues to be in the hands of women, 
even as their control over agriculture is increasingly being eroded through green 
revolution and cash-crop farming. Women there do 70-80 per cent of all 
agricultural work and produce 40 to 50 per cent of all staple food crops. 
Shirnsvaayi Muntemba has argued that women’s ability to produce and supply 

Mate and female share of agricultural work (Africa) 


% Female 

























Source: Economic Commission for Africa, 1975. 

food has been deteriorating over time. The penetration of capitalism and the 
money economy has led to a marked and devastating erosion of the productive 
power of land and the power of women. 16 The commercialisation of agriculture 
puts constraints on the amount of land available for the production of food crops. 
Women's productivity, particularly of food crops, has stagnated and in some 
cases actually diminished, while cash crop production under male control has 
led to reduced food availability for the household. 

Agricultural 'development' or modernisation has split the activity into two 
sectors - the highly visible, globally planned and controlled and state subsidised 
production for profits and markets, and the less visible, sometimes invisible, 


decentred self-provisioning of food through what is commonly called 
subsistence farming. The ‘masculinisation' of modem, chemical intensive and 
mechanised, capital intensive agriculture, and the 'feminisation' of traditional 
subsistence food production which feeds the bulk of the rural poor, is now being 
recognised worldwide . 17 This dichotomy has been accentuated with modern 
production and distribution systems which are integrated into global markets 
and are introduced through male -oriented international aid and financing which 
has become a major factor in excluding women's access to conditions for 
producing food. Their control over food systems has diminished while their 
responsibility as the main providers for their dependants has increased. As more 
land is diverted to cash crops and is impoverished through the ecological impact 
of green revolution technologies, women have decreased space but increased 
burdens in food production. With the market as the measure of all productivity, 
the 'value' of women's work and status falls, while their work in producing food 
for survival increases. By splitting the agricultural economy into a 
cash-mediated masculinised sector, and a subsistence, food-producing 
‘feminised’ sector, capitalist patriarchy simultaneously increases the work 
burden and the marginalisation of women. The cash economy first draws men 
away from basic food production, thus increasing women's workload for 
producing subsistence; then, ecological disruption caused by cash crop and 
green revolution farming forces them to walk longer distances for water, fodder 
and fuel. 

A study by Bandy opadhyay and Moench 18 of biomass utilisation in Garhwal 
has shown clearly what a shift away from staple food crops to vegetables for 
export implies for women's work and nature's stability, in the Garhwal Himalaya 
at least, two-thirds of the fodder needs of farm animals are derived from the 
straw of cereal crops; this is stored and provides animal feed in periods of low 
biological productivity. The shift to vegetables earns cash, but it destroys the 
food and fodder source on the farm. The pressure for fodder on forests thus 
immediately increases three -fold, as if the population had tripled. The invisible 
costs of deforestation and forest degradation generated by commercial 
agriculture, with the associated cost of water and soil instability, are never 
calculated by the market transactions of commercial farming. For the women, 
the destruction of fodder sources on the farm means more energy expenditure in 
fodder collection from forests, which means more deforestation and higher rates 


of soil and water erosion. Finally, the disruption of ecological cycles turns both 
farms and forests into unproductive and desertified wastelands. 

The point, however, is not so much that in farming systems women labour 
more than men in agriculture but that, traditionally, they are productive in 
precisely those links in farm operations which involve a partnership with nature 
and are crucial for maintaining the food cycle - in the soil, and in the local food 
economy. And it is these cycles that are broken when cash crop, green revolution 
agriculture replaces subsistence agriculture. There are two invisible processes of 
the dispossession of women implicit in such a shift. Firstly, women's role shifts 
from the ecological category of being soil-builders and primary producers of 
farm productivity to the economic category of subsidiary workers and wage 
earners on an agricultural assembly line. Agarwal has observed that between 
1961 and 1981, the percentage of women agricultural labourers rose from 25.6 
per cent to 49.6 per cent. 19 This doubling, over two decades, of women's 
dependence on wage labour is related to the erosion of their independent access 
to land and land use. Women's traditional control over land was not in terms of 
ownership but rights to land use. With these decisions now being made by cen- 
trally controlled state policy, in tune with corporate demands, women's control 
over agriculture has been eroded, even as their work burden has increased. That 
they are losing control over land as a means of production is noted by Mies 20 
who draws evidence from the fact that the number of female cultivators dropped 
by 52 per cent between 1961 and 1971, while the number of female agricultural 
labourers rose by 43 per cent. Whereas until 1961, the proportion of women 
among cultivators had been between 289 -498 per 1000 men, this ratio fell 
steeply between 1961 and 1971 to a mere 135 women to 1000 men. Similarly, 
the female ratio among agricultural labourers had been relatively stable since 
1901, but between 1961 and 1971 it dropped from 819 women per 1000 men to 
498 women per 1000 men, a decline of about 40 per cent. Women's 
marginalisation and gender polarisation is further aggravated by the fact that 
there is a male/female differential in wage earnings, with women generally 
being paid between half or one third less than male agricultural labour. Table 4 
indicates the shifts in women's visible agricultural work. 


Women engaged in agriculture, 1951-1981 


Cultivators Agricultural labourers 


No. of 

% of total 

No. of 

% of total 





























Source: Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India, 1975, and 
Census of India, 1981. 

The displacement of women cultivators and small peasants is not accidental 
to the green revolution. Bruce Jennings of Hawaii University has shown how 
Rockefeller scientists straightforwardly addressed the problem of a 'top-down' 
versus a 'bottom-up' strategy: 'The plan presented assumes that most rapid 
progress can be made by starting at the top and expanding downward. 21 They 
argued that the 'deficiencies' of Third World farmers made it futile to begin at the 
bottom. 'Building on the best' was the slogan of the green revolution, and the 
'best' was the richest farmers of the richest regions. As Anderson and Morrison 
have observed, the green revolution was 'a development policy made to order for 
the better-off peasant cultivator in the existing high yield areas'. 22 Excluding the 
poorer regions and poorer classes was an explicit, not a tacit, bias of the green 
revolution. In 1959, when a Ford Foundation mission of thirteen North 
American agronomists came on a mission to India, they rejected the alternative 
of simultaneous agricultural development in all of India's 5,50,000 villages 
instead, they advised subsidisation of technical inputs in those areas that were 
well-irrigated. Thus in the mid-Sixties, India's New Agricultural Strategy to 
promote new seed varieties ended up concentrating on already privileged 
farmers, who in green revolution language became 'progressive' farmers. The 
rest were forced to move backward for lack of land, money, access to credit and 
political influence and were marginalised in their role as food producers. 23 
Bhalla tells us that in both HYV wheat and Hw rice areas, 'the distribution of 
operated land has shifted in favour of big farmers'. 24 Kelkar, who has studied the 
effects of the green revolution in three villages in Etawah district, observes that 


the new technology excludes women and marginalises them. According to her, 
'With the cultivation of cash crops entirely for the market, women have no 
decision-making power regarding the requirement of grain at home. Economic 
principles are paramount when such decisions are made by men. Women with no 
control over expenditure or marketing lost authority at home. This has been the 
natural consequence of displacement from the spheres of work and market.' 25 

The masculinist equation of economic value and cash flows creates a split 
between the market economy controlled by men, and the survival economy 
supported by women. Commercialisation leads to increased burdens on women 
for producing survival and decreased valuation of their work on the market. This 
devaluation, combined with increased work burdens, reduces women's 
entitlement to food, nutrition and even life itself. As women carry more burdens 
for society, they are increasingly seen as becoming a burden on society, and can 
be dispensed with, through discrimination, dowry deaths and femicide. 

The violence to women that arises from this epistemological and economic 
reductionism of agricultural maldevelopment takes place in two ways. The myth 
that chemicals and machines can replace the life in food and the life of the soil, 
dispenses with the productive role of women in conservation and in food 
production and processing. Work and labour that go into maintaining essential 
ecological processes on the farm and conserving nutrition in food are not 
registered on the linear scale of inputs and outputs that come from and feed 
distant markets. Commoditisation of food production thus either destroys the 
basis of women's work or devalues it. With the decline in the perceived or real 
productivity of women is associated a decline in their status in society and within 
the household. In the heart of the green revolution region of Punjab, the food 
abundance for the market has not been translated into nutrition for the girl child 
within the house. A study done in 1978 in Ludhiana district of Punjab 26 shows 
that the percentage of female children who were undernourished was higher than 
that of undernourished male children within the same economic group. 


Nutritional status of male and female children 



70-80% of 

Less than 70% 
of expected 





% F 

















A classic study by Srilata Batliwala 27 was the first attempt made at 
calculating the time and energy expenditure by men, women and children in 
work in agricultural contexts. The study concluded that 'if we disaggregate 
human energy, the contribution of men, women and children is 31, 53 and 16 per 
cent respectively (as percentages of total human hours per household per day).' 
As discussed, with the commercialisation of the agricultural economy, women's 
work increases, but the very processes of maldevelopment which increase 
women's work in producing sustenance, decrease the value of women 's work 
because it is linked to sustenance, not profits. Women are therefore paid less and 
fed less at the same time that increased work burdens call for higher wages and 
incomes and more food. 

Lower food entitlements, associated with increased work burdens, is only 
the first and most immediate impact of the commercialisation of agriculture on 
women. Violence against women related to dowry issues has been found to be 
highest in the green revolution region of north-west India and is Part of the 
general violence that is becoming endemic to Punjab. The green revolution as a 
breeding ground for the civil unrest and violence in the state has been analysed 
by me in a study done for the UNU. 28 As Bina Agarwal observes, 'the 
north-western states of Punjab and Haryana rank amongst the highest in terms of 
the adoption of new green revolution technology. . . However, it is precisely the 
north western regions where discrimination against females is most noted, both 
historically and in the recent period. 29 This region was also the first to turn 
amniocentesis into a modem form of female foeticide, by allowing the selective 
abortion of female foetuses. Between 1978 and 1983, 78,000 female foetuses 
had been aborted after sex determination tests. The first sex determination clinic 
was set up in Amritsar in Punjab. People are willing to pay upto Rs. 5,000 to be 
able to get rid of the 'dispensable sex'. As the menace of dowry spreads across 


the country, and across classes, the dispensability of the girl child also increases. 
About 84 per cent of gynaecologists currently perform amniocentesis in 
Bombay and see it as 'a human service to women who do not want any more 
daughters'. 30 The costs of a sex determination test, and selective abortion of 
female foetuses are lower in terms of cash than the thousands of rupees needed 
for a girl's dowry. And in a world dominated increasingly by capitalist 
patriarchy, cash is the only measure of worth - of women as of everything else. 

The Kallars, a landless community in Tamil Nadu, have, over the last 10 to 
15 years, started routinely dispensing with their girl children. The logic of 
dispensability is linked to the green revolution which, through 
commercialisation, introduces differential wage labour, on the one hand (with 
men getting Rs.13 a day and women getting Rs. 6) and, on the other, creates a 
demand for dowry which has driven the poverty-stricken community to female 
infanticide. The dowry system came to the Kallars after the dam on the Vaigai 
river brought irrigation water into Usilampatti, 25 years ago. With commercial 
prosperity came the increasing devaluation of women and increased dowry 
demands, and with increasing dowry demands came female infanticide in each 
of the more than 300 Kallar villages in Usilampatti taluk, with populations 
ranging from 500 to 1,500, 20 to 50 girl babies have been killed in the last five 
years in the face of the excruciatingly cruel dowry problem. Underlying 
infanticide is dowry, and underlying them both is the green revolution in 
Usilampatti. 31 

The 'success' of the green revolution in India has often been contrasted to the 
failure of agriculture in. Africa. The successful spread of the green revolution 
has also deepened the sex-bias against women. As Amartya Sen points out, the 
sex ratio has been falling systematically over the decades in India and is lower 
than that for Africa in 1980 the sex ratio for Africa was 1.015 while that for India 
was 0.931. Sen calculates the number of women we could expect if the African 
sex ratio were to hold here. 'At the African ratio, there would have been nearly 
30 million more women in India than actually live today. 32 Contrary to received 
views that modernisation would liberate women from old discrimination and 
domination, the modernisation of agriculture in India is deepening old 
prejudices and introducing new biases and violence. The assumption of the 
substitutability and dispensability of nature and women that results from the 
dichotomies and dualisms of economic and scientific reductionism is the 


underlying cause for the desertification and death of soils on the one hand, and 
the deprivation, devaluation and death of women on the other. 

We have arrived at a major crisis in the very nature of the way we produce 
food that is impoverishing the land that is the primary capital for food 
production, as well as the people for whom food should be an entitlement and a 
right through their participation in food production. The green revolution 
approach has converted a recycling, self-renewing food system into a production 
line with hybrids and chemicals as inputs, and food commodities as outputs. 
Nature's food chains have been broken as multinational corporate 'food chains' 
gain control over the production and distribution of food. 

Miracle seeds: breeding out the feminine principle 

Seeds are the first link in the food chain. For five thousand years, peasants have 
produced their own seeds, selecting, storing and replanting, and letting nature 
take its course in the food chain. The feminine principle has been conserved 
through the conservation of seeds by women in their work in food and grain 
storage. With the preservation of genetic diversity and the self-renewability of 
food crops has been associated the control by women and Third World peasants 
on germ plasm, the source of all plant wealth. All this changed with the green 
revolution. At its heart lie new varieties of miracle seeds which have totally 
transformed the nature of food production and control over food systems. The 
'miracle' seeds for which Borlaug got a Nobel Prize and which rapidly spread 
across the Third World, also sowed the seeds of a new commercialisation of 
agriculture. Borlaug ushered in an era of corporate control on food production by 
creating a technology by which multinationals acquired control over seeds, and 
hence over the entire food system. The green revolution commercialised and 
privatised seeds, removing control of plant genetic resources from Third World 
peasant women and giving it over to western male technocrats in CIMMYT, 
IRRI and multinational seed corporations. 33 

Women have acted as custodians of the common genetic heritage through 
the storage and preservation of grain. In a study of rural women of Nepal, it was 
found that seed selection is primarily a female responsibility. In 60.4 per cent of 
the cases, women alone decided what type of seed to use, while men decided in 
only 20.7 per cent. As to who actually performs the task of seed selection in 
cases where the family decides to use their own seeds, this work is done by 
women alone in 81.2 per cent of the households, by both sexes in eight per cent 


and by men alone in only 10.8 per cent of the households. Throughout India, 
even in years of scarcity, grain for seed was conserved in every household, so 
that the cycle of food production was not interrupted by loss of seed. The peasant 
women of India have carefully maintained the genetic base of food production 
over thousands of years. This common wealth, which had evolved over 
millennia, was defined as 'primitive cultivars' by the masculinist view of seeds, 
which saw its own new products as ‘advanced’ varieties. 34 The masculinist 
breeding strategy of the green revolution was a strategy of breeding out the 
feminine principle by the destruction of the self-reproducing character and 
genetic diversity of seeds. The death of the feminine principle in plant breeding 
was the beginning of seeds becoming a source of profits and control. The hybrid 
'miracle' seeds are a commercial miracle, because farmers have to buy new 
supplies of them every year: they do not reproduce themselves , 35 Grains from 
hybrids do not produce seeds that duplicate the same result because hybrids do 
not pass on their vigour to the next generation. With hybridisation, seeds could 
no more be viewed as a source of plant life, producing sustenance through food 
and nutrition: they were now a source of private profit only. 

The myth of the miracle seeds 

These new varieties of seeds have also been called high yielding varieties 
(HYV); the term is a misnomer, however, as pointed out by Ingrid Palmer in her 
fifteen nation study of the impact of the new seeds on agriculture. 36 'Miracle' 
seeds are not high yielding in and of themselves; their distinguishing feature is 
that they are highly responsive to heavy inputs of irrigation and chemical 
fertilizers. It is therefore more appropriate to call them 'high-responsive varie- 
ties' (HRVS), because without the ideal inputs, their yield is extremely low. 

Traditional crop varieties, characterised by tall and thin straw, typically 
convert heavy doses of fertilizer into overall growth of the plant, rather than 
increasing grain yield alone. Commonly, the excessive growth of the plant 
causes the stalk to break, 'lodging' the grain on the ground, which results in 
heavy crop losses. The main characteristics of the 'miracle' seeds or high 
yielding varieties which started the process of the green revolution, was to avoid 
lodging by biologically engineering dwarf varieties through hybridisation. The 
important feature of these new varieties is not that they are particularly 
productive in themselves but that they can absorb three or four times the amount 
of fertilizer that traditional varieties do and convert it into grain, provided 


proportionately heavy and frequent irrigation applications are also available. In 
the context of higher inputs, the Hw seeds are resource-wasteful. Besides the 
heavy demands made on water and fertilizer, the new seeds have a high 
vulnerability to pests and diseases. The green revolution has been based on 
breeding crops which are 'impressively uniform genetically and impressively 
vulnerable'. 37 Uniformity is intrinsic to centralised seed production, which on the 
one hand displaces mixed cropping patterns and gives rise to monocultures, and 
on the other displaces genetic diversity in crops by the introduction of highly 
uniform hybrids. When compared to the cropping systems they displace, the 
hybrids are not 'high yielding' or 'improved' at all. In the context of genetic 
diversity, they are clearly inferior to the multitudinous strains of locally adapted 
varieties of crops In 1968-69, in Pakistan for example, the yield of Mexican 
dwarf wheat declined by about 20 per cent because of a two-thirds reduction in 
rainfall. The locally adapted varieties, however, were not adversely affected by 
the weather changes. In fact, there yields increased by 1 lper cent. 3S 

The lower drought and pest resistance of new sorghum strains has led to 
severe crop failure, as observed in Dharwar district of Karnataka during a study 
undertaken for the United Nations University by the author. 39 Prior to 1965-66, 
indigenous sorghum varieties were cultivated with pulses like madike*, avare 
( Dolicbos lablab), togare (Cajanus indicus), hesaru (Phascolus mungo) and 
oilseeds like niger. A drought-resistant crop called save (Panicrion miliare) was 
also grown as an insurance against crop failure, since it is a quick-growing crop 
of three months duration which gives good yields of grain and straw even in low 
rainfall years, which can be considered famine years. 

In the Sixties, 'high yielding' sorghum was introduced into the area under 
irrigated conditions. The HYV being susceptible to pests needed pesticide 
spraying, which destroyed the pest-predator balance in neighbouring fields of 
indigenous varieties, which were now attacked by a new pest called midge. The 
midge reappeared year after year and the indigenous variety was wiped out by 
1975-76. In Kurugund village, for example, the area under traditional varieties 
was 839.12 acres in 1960-65, 973.84 in 1970-71 and just four acres in 1975-76. 
In 1980-81 no area was sown with traditional varieties. Since sorghum is the 
main food-crop of the region, farmers were compelled to plant HYVs. In 
1970-71 the area under HYVs was 99.06 acres; in 1980-81 it rose to 835 acres, 
but from 1982-83 the area started decreasing again: in 1982-83 it was 832.24, 
and by 1985-86 it was down to 460.15. The displacement of indigenous varieties 


has caused a severe reduction in fodder which has reduced the livestock 
population and therefore also the return of fertility to the soil, blocking the only 
mechanism for soil moisture conservation in rain fed land. The violence to 
animals by denying their right to food in order to apparently increase man's food 
supply is turned into violence to the soil as the producer of food, and ultimately 
boomerangs as violence to man himself through food scarcity. The yield of the 
HYVs which was seven to eight quintals per acre is down to less than four due to 
a complex web of ecological instability inherent in the Hw monoculture; high 
vulnerability to rainfall decrease and high pest and weed incidence are all 
associated with the displacement of mixed crops providing a complementary 
and diverse balance of foods for man and animal. 

In the context of diverse outputs from the farm, the HYVs were not really 
high yielding even under the best conditions. They appeared high yielding 
because a whole system of cropping that provided diverse foods to man, animals 
and the earth was reduced to the output of a single crop. The mixed crop of 
sorghum with green gram, black gram, niger, which are the source of protein in 
rural South India, was first reduced to sorghum alone, and then sorghum as a 
food and fodder crop was reduced to a food crop alone. The dwarf varieties are 
necessary to avoid 'lodging' which is inevitable in the tall indigenous varieties 
with large irrigation and fertilizer inputs. Dwarfing, however, produces short 
and hard straw which is useless as animal fodder. The 'high yielding' sorghum 
was thus low yielding in the context of fodder 

Table 6 

Inputs and outputs per acre for traditional and HYV sorghum 
















2.00 tonnes 
2.00 tonnes 



15 kg 






Foodgrain yield 

Fodder yield 







Jowar 5 quintals 


3.00 tonnes 


+ Madike 40 kg 


+ Green gram 20 kg 


+ Black gram 15 kg 


Jowar 4 quintals 


1 .00 tonnes 


production. In the reductionist view, the rest of the cropping system was 
invisible and was destroyed, even though it provided higher total outputs of food 
for people, animals and soil, and even though it provided a sustainable strategy 
for growing food. When sorghum was cultivated as a mixed crop with pulses, the 
production per acre was 40 kgs of madike, 20 kgs of green gram, 10 kgs of black 
gram and 10 kgs of niger. Once HW sorghum was introduced it displaced the 
mixed cropping: for example, in Kurugund in 1970-71 the area under madike 
was 105.14 acres; by 1975-76 it was only 23.34. Pulses have either disappeared 
or have to be cultivated exclusively, putting a new demand on land. The high 
yield of HYV varieties is a reductionist fiction which is destroying the very 
capacity of ecosystems and people to produce food. The strategy for creating a 
fictitious abundance has become a means for creating real scarcity by destroying 
the quiet ways of nature's work, peasants' work and women's work. The 
sorghum-pulse intercrop, which the new seeds displaced, is simultaneously a 
means of maintaining soil fertility, controlling pests and disease and reducing 
vulnerability to rainfall failure. The dramatic visibility of a large sorghum grain 
manufactured in the lab and research stations, the drama of killing pests by 
spraying poisons, the obvious flow of water in large irrigation channels create a 
mind-set which fails to see the few kilograms of nutritious pulses which 
invisibly fix nitrogen and provide it to their fellow sorghum plants, or the habitat 


in mixed crops for predators which keep pests under control, or the fodder for 
the cow and bullock and the organic matter from crops and animals which give 
back food to the soil, conserve moisture and keep soil alive. What it cannot see, 
it does riot measure, and hence the new seeds of reductionist science destroy rich 
and productive farming systems, in total ignorance of what they destroy. Green 
revolution varieties of seeds were clearly not the best alternative for increasing 
food production from the point of view of nature, women and poor peasants. 
They were useful for corporations that wanted to find new avenues in seeds and 
fertilizer sales, by displacing women peasants as custodians of seeds and 
builders of soil fertility, and they were useful for rich farmers wanting to make 
profits. The international agencies which financed research on the new seeds 
also provided the money for their distribution. The impossible task of selling a 
new variety to millions of small peasants who could not afford to buy the seeds 
was solved by the World Bank, UNDP, FAO and a host of bilateral aid 
programmes which began to accord high priority to the distribution of Hw seed 
in their aid programmes. The seed corporations which were increasingly being 
integrated with chemical companies, could sell seeds to Third World 
government agencies and let them bear the burden of distribution. With 
international aid, Third World governments were prepared to heavily subsidise 
prices and also to force peasant farmers to buy new seed by linking the use of 
'improved' varieties to access to agricultural credit and other inputs, including 
irrigation. Third World peasants did not always choose the new seeds: they were 
often forced on them . 40 

The myth of high yields and food self-sufficiency 

There are two levels at which the matter of food self-sufficiency, based on the 
green revolution in India, is a myth. At the micro level, the displacement of crop 
mixtures of cereals, pulses and oilseeds by monocultures of commoditised HYV 
crops undermines food self-sufficiency in a drastic way. First, the small peasant, 
who does not fit into the credit, purchased inputs and cash crop package, is 
displaced, losing his or her entitlement to food that food production provided. 
There is ample evidence available that the green revolution had a class bias and 
worked against the interests of the small peasant. The dispossession of 
the -poorer sections of rural society through the green revolution strategy and 
their reduced access to food resources is, in part, responsible for the appearance 
of surpluses at the macro- level. The surplus, according to prominent economist, 


V.K.R.V. Rao, is a myth because it is created by lack of purchasing power. 
While food stocks had shot up from 63 million tonnes in 1966 to 128 million 
tonnes in 1985, food consumption had dropped from 480 gms per capita, per day 
in 1965 to 463 gms per capita, per day in 1985. Dr. C Gopalan, India's leading 
nutritionist, has also stressed that' our buffer stocks are apparently more an 
indication of the poverty of our masses than of real food surplus'. Large numbers 
of peasants who produced food for themselves have been displaced from 
agriculture and do not have enough purchasing power to buy commercially 
produced and distributed food. Moreover, the production of essential foodgrains 
like pulses and oilseeds which are critical to balanced food intake has declined in 
absolute terms under the impact of the green revolution. The increased yields are 
thus not reflective of the food system as a whole, but of a small component of it 
that is of interest to the market. Overall, nutrition availability has declined. If one 
also includes the costs to the farm ecosystem in terms of soil degradation, water 
logging, salinity and desertification, the green revolution has actually reduced 
productivity, instead of increasing it. 

The green revolution has displaced not just seed varieties but entire crops in 
the Third World just as people's seeds were declared 'primitive' and 'inferior the 
green revolution ideology, foodcrops were declared 'marginal', 'inferior' and 
'coarse grained'. Only a biased agricultural science rooted in capitalist patriarchy 
could declare nutritious crops like ragi and jowar 'inferior'. Peasant women 
know the nutrition needs of their families and the nutritive content of the crops 
they grow. Among foodcrops they prefer those with maximum nutrition to those 
with a value in the market. What have usually been called 'marginal crops' or 
'coarse grains' are nature’s most productive crops in terms of nutrition. That is 
why women in Garhwal continue to cultivate mandua and women in Karnataka 
cultivate ragi inspite of all attempts by state policy to shift to cash crops and 
commercial foodgrains, to which all financial incentives of agricultural 
'development' are tied. Table 7 illustrates how what the green revolution has 
declared 'inferior' grains are actually superior in nutritive content to the so-called 
‘superior' grains, rice and wheat. 41 A woman in a Himalayan village once told 
me, 'Without our mandua and jbangora, we could not labour as we do. These 
grains are our source of health and strength.' 


Nutritional content of different foodcrops 
































The implications of the centralised control of genetic resources is best 
illustrated by the case of rice, the staple food for most of Asia. India once used to 
have four lakh rice varieties. Over the last half century, she has probably grown 
over 30,000 different varieties of rice. With the green revolution, this genetic 
diversity is fast being eroded, as uniform populations of hybrids are introduced 
from IRRI. The International Rice Research Institute was set up in 1959 by the 
Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, nine years after the establishment of a 
premier Indian institute, the Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI) in Cuttack. 
The Cuttack Institute was working on rice research based on indigenous 
knowledge and genetic resources, a strategy clearly in conflict with the 
American controlled strategy of the International Rice Research institute. The 
director of CRRI was removed, under international pressure, when he resisted 
handing over his collection of rice germ plasm to IRRI, as well as the hurried 
introduction of the HYV rice varieties from IRRI. 43 

The Madhya Pradesh government gave a small stipend to the "ex-director of 
CRRI so that he could continue his work at the Madhya Pradesh Rice Research 
Institute at Raipur. On this shoestring budget, he conserved 20,000 indigenous 
rice varieties in situ in India's rice bowl in Chattisgarh. 44 Later the MPRRI, 
which was doing pioneering work in developing a high yielding strategy based 
on the decentred knowledge of the Chattisgarh tribals, was also closed down 
under pressure from the World Bank (which was linked to IRRI through CGM) 
because it had reservations about sending its germ plasm collection to IRRI. 
While reducing the genetic base in rice farming IRRI is becoming the new 
monopoly of the world's genetic wealth in rice. As observed by the scientists of 
the Central Rice Research Institute, Tb e introduction of high yielding varieties 
has brought about a marked change in the status of insect pests like gall midge, 
brown plant hopper, leaf folder, whore maggot, etc. Most of the high yielding 
varieties released so far are susceptible to major pests, with a crop loss of 30 to 


100 per cent. Most of the HYVs used today are derivatives of T(N) or IR-8 and 
therefore have the dwarfing gene of Dee-geo-woo-gen (DGWG). This narrow 
genetic base has created alarming uniformity, causing vulnerability to diseases 
and pests. Most of the released varieties are not suitable for tropical uplands and 
lowlands, which together constitute about 75 per cent of the total rice area of the 
country. 45 Because of these vulnerabilities, the dwarf varieties brought from 
IRRI have failed to improve yields in traditional rice growing systems. 46 

With the centralised production and transfer of HYV rice seed has come the 
transfer of diseases. Virus diseases did not exist in India prior to 1962 - they 
came in with the dwarf varieties from IRRI. Gone is the resistance built on 
diversity-, in its place comes vulnerability. Gone is nature as a source for seeds; 
in its place come agri-business and seed corporations. Gone is the decentred 
local knowledge of millions of tribals and peasants; in its place comes one 
centralised research institute with largely male, largely white ‘experts' who 
prescribe green revolution rice agriculture to fanners in 111 countries, in 
uplands and lowlands, in mountains and coastal regions. 

The result has been a total undermining of the ecology and economics of rice 
farming, in particular, and agriculture in general. For equivalent fertilization, the 
high yielding varieties produce about the same total biomass as traditional rice. 
They increase the grain yield at the cost of the straw. 47 Thus, while traditional 
rice produces four to five times as much straw as grain, high yielding rice 
typically produces a one-to-one ratio of grain to straw. A conversion from 
traditional to high yielding rice increases the grain available but decreases the 
straw. The scarcity in straw ultimately reduces biomass availability for fodder 
and mulch, leading to a breakdown in nutrient recycling. 

The IRRI strategy was quite clearly not the best for the rice farmers of Asia. 
Variety IR-8, released in 1966, suffered serious attacks of bacterial blight in 
1968-69. In 1970-71 the rice tungro virus destroyed IR-8 crops throughout the 
Philippines. The IR-20 which replaced IR-8 in 1971-72 was bred with resistance 
against bacterial blight and the tungro virus. By 1973 outbreaks of brown plant 
hopper and grassy stunt virus had destroyed IR-20 in most Philippine provinces. 
This was superseded by IR-26 in 1974-75, which was attacked by a new strain of 
the plant hopper. By 1976, another variety, IR-36, was introduced which was 
threatened by new diseases - ragged stunt and witted stunt. 48 

Indigenous varieties do not have these pest problems, nor is their pest 
resistance obtained at the cost of yields. The tribals of Chattisgarh breed 


varieties with normal yields as high as those of HYV under ideal conditions. 
This strategy gains an advantage because rice strains are adapted to the local 
environment, they maintain a wide base in genetic diversity and rice farmers of 
the region use such breeding technologies themselves. As Richaria points out, 
'The rice farmers are sleeping giants, but they have been tamed by modern 
science to tell them that their centuries old experience and knowledge are no 
good. That is not correct. Existence of thousands of rice varieties in India, prior 
to 1900 when Mendelism was rediscovered, is a testimony to the knowledge and 
experience which has descended down the generations.' 

Bayliss-Smith, 49 in his review of twenty-two rice growing systems, has 
observed that the green revolution is not the only way of raising yields. Wet rice 
has the capacity of more and more intensification, a process called 'involution' 
by Geertz. 50 Such strategies include examples such as double-cropping of rice 
with broad beans in organically manured fields in Yunnan in China which gives 
two to three times the yield of green revolution grains. The western model 
propagated by IRRI was clearly not the only alternative, and it was not the best. 
It was power, profits and control, not yields, that made global corporate and 
international aid interests opt for the 'miracle' seeds which made peasants 
dependent on internationally produced seeds and chemicals. Other alternatives 
would have left control with women and peasants, and would have kept people 
fed, but would not have generated profits. As Lappe and Collins observe, the 
green revolution was a political imperative. 'Historically, the green revolution 
represented a choice to breed seed varieties that produce high yields under 
optimum conditions. It was a choice not to start by developing seeds better able 
to withstand drought or pests, it was a choice not to concentrate first on 
improving traditional methods of increasing yields, such as mixed cropping. It 
was a choice not to develop technology that was productive, labour- intensive, 
and independent of foreign input supply. It was a choice not to concentrate on 
reinforcing the balanced, traditional diets of grain plus legumes.' 51 

The failures of the green revolution are now apparent both to farmers and to 
those in global think-tanks. Farmers have stopped using 'miracle' seeds. In 
Kerala, women rice farmers are reported to have said, 'When we sowed only 
government approved varieties we had a loss.’ 52 In Philippines, rice farmers 
called the IRRI seeds 'seeds of imperialism' 53 , and in Negros, they are shifting 
again to traditional seeds as a basis of agriculture which is ecological and 
equitable. As a visitor to Negros observed, 'The "green revolution" of the'70's 


made a mockery of two beautiful words. But in Negros we had the feeling that 
we were seeing the beginning of a genuine green revolution; that is genuinely 
green and genuinely revolutionary.' 54 As the myth of the miracle seed gets 
exposed, international agencies are talking of going 'beyond the green revolu- 
tion.' 55 The post-green revolution era could be based on a recovery of the 
feminine principle in agriculture — consisting of a recovery of genetic diversity, 
self-renewability and self-sufficiency in food production, with control in the 
hands of those who provide sustenance. It could, however, also involve a more 
rapid breeding out of the feminine principle by deepening trends towards 
uniformity and vulnerability, and transferring the control of seeds and crops 
from the hands of women and peasants into the hands of corporate giants. 

From the green revolution to biotechnology 

Seeds and chemicals have been the two most important inputs for the green 
revolution. With the biotechnology revolution, these inputs will get fully 
integrated, as multinational chemical companies start taking over the business of 
plant breeding and entire university research programmes. The integration of 
corporate interests will further break down the cycles of nature, 56 and delink 
women from the food chain. 

Biotechnologies are making the hitherto hidden convergences between 
knowledge, power and profits explicit. The frontiers of genetic engineering 
research are riot being innocently charted in institutions of learning; they are 
being worked on in 350 firms ranging from large multinationals to small biotech 
companies. Biotechnology corporations have merged with seed companies 
which are also producers of fertilizers and pesticides. The new seeds will be 
engineered within the old corporate control of Dow, Du Pont, Eli Lilly, Exxon, 
Merck, Monsanto, Pfizer, Upjohn, etc. The new, smaller biotechnology 
corporations will sooner or later merge with the large multinationals, because 
biologists active in the industrialisation and commercialisation of their research 
will find it best for profits. A corporate assessment is that at the turn of the 
century only five multinationals will survive as integrated seed and chemical 
corporations. Scientists accept that in the future, goals of biotechnology research 
will be for profit not for public interest. 57 No more will the separation of science 
and profits work as a patriarchal fiction because the universities, the modern 
intellectual 'commons' are being totally 'corporatised' and privatised. Companies 


are buying up scientists, and entire departments and programmes with 
multimillion- dollar, multi-year contracts . 58 

Biotechnology is more explicitly integrating the corporate food chain with 
agri-business and chemical multinationals, breeding crops to suit the needs of 
the food processing and pesticide industries. This has already started to happen 
in India, with a biotechnology prescription to solve the problems created by the 
green revolution in Punjab. A proposal has been submitted to set up a 
biotechnology research centre for seeds, tied up with a component of exporting 
processed fruits and vegetables as a collaboration between Pepsico, the U.S. 
multinational, Tata and Punjab Agro Industries Corporation . 59 A pro-Pepsi 
commentator has called it 'a catalyst for the next agricultural revolution '. 60 Why 
has it become important to have a second green revolution so soon after the first? 
And does the second revolution not aggravate the ecological, economic and 
political vulnerabilities that the first introduced? In less than two decades, the 
farmers of Punjab have found that the miracle seeds were not such a miracle 
after all. Over the years yields and profit margins on rice and wheat in Punjab 
have stagnated or fallen and are creating an imperative for diversification. The 
reduced diversity of the genetic base and of cropping patterns is the cause of the 
ecological and economic problems of green revolution fanning in Punjab. The 
response required to manoeuvre this ecological cul-de-sac is to recover the 
genetic diversity of living resources in agriculture, to maintain the health of 
soils, to use water more prudently and to minimise the risk of pests and diseases. 
The new call for diversification does not however spring from an ecological 
basis but from corporate perceptions of commodities. The 'diversification' of 
Punjab agriculture has been distorted to mean a shift away from staple foodcrop, 
production towards export-oriented production, on an even narrower and more 
unstable genetic base than the green revolution. The Pepsi project has been 
floated in this corporate context of 'diversification'; it indicates new political and 
economic control of living resources, new ecological vulnerabilities, new levels 
of genetic erosion and new sources of dispossession and dislocation for women 
and marginal communities. It is a significant watershed in Indian agricultural 
and land use policy because it introduces new dimensions in the politics of food 
and of genetic resources, simultaneously threatening food production, food 
entitlements and the erosion of genetic diversity, and transferring the control of 
our land and genetic wealth to multinational companies. 


The Pepsi project is aimed primarily at producing and processing fruits and 
vegetables for export, in this, it is a departure from the green revolution which 
focussed on commercial wheat and rice production for the satisfaction of 
domestic needs. The project envisages exports of Rs.55 crores in the first year 
alone. About 74 per cent of the total outlay of Rs.22 crores on the project is in the 
processed food sector which will utilise one lakh tonnes of fruit and vegetables. 
These will be grown on land that now grows cereals. If, as a catalyst, Pepsi 
triggers off the large-scale transfer of land from staple foods to cash crops for 
export, who will grow the food? There is, of course, a dependency prescription 
that countries like India should stop producing food and should buy it from the 
U.S. Apart from the fact that politically, such dependence violates basic 
concepts of food security, economically, too, it is invalid because not only do 
cash crops produce no food, they do not produce much cash either over time. As 
Lloyd Timberlake states in the context of Africa's food crisis, 'The main 
drawback to cash crops is that over the past decade they have produced less and 
less cash.' As the area under crop commodities for export grows, prices fall and 
returns decline instead of increasing. As a showpiece, the Pepsi project is less 
portentious than as a catalyst, because in its latter aspect it will put India on the 
path to debt, dispossession and agricultural decline, such that have been created 
in Africa and latin America. Clairmonte and Cavanagh observe- 'The outcome, 
like a Greek tragedy, is ineluctable. Third World countries are literally being 
driven to market fatter and fatter volumes of commodities at lower and lower 
prices on the global market in return for higher priced goods and services 
imports.' 61 

The cash crop export strategy has been tried elsewhere and is a sure 
prescription for food scarcity and spiralling debt burdens. Africa's food crisis 
and hunger and famine are linked directly to the underdevelopment of her food 
production by cash crop development. As Africa invested more heavily in cash 
crops, food production declined. Scarce resources have been diverted to cash 
crops, undermining the cultivation of food and causing major ecological 
instability. According to the Barth Resources Institute's report, Agribusiness in 
Africa, 62 as recently as 1970 she was producing enough food to feed herself. By 
1984, 140 million Africans out of a total of 53 1 million were fed with grain from 
abroad, because by the end of the 1970s, the economies of many African nations 
were tied to export-oriented cash crop production. Dependence on single crop 
commodities for export is in large measure at the root of Africa's ecological, 


economic and human crises. That for women cash crops bring about a new 
marginalisation, has already been established in the last section. Inspite of the 
failure of an export oriented strategy as a solution to the food crisis and the 
problem of hunger, the biotechnology revolution is being sold as the new answer 
to food abundance. And as the last miracle is buried, talk of the promise and 
power of the new miracles of bio-technologies and genetic engineering is 
increasingly being heard. The Pepsi project too, promotes biotechnologies 
which will engineer fruit and vegetable seeds to make them more appropriate for 
processing, and Pepsico has already integrated its seed and processing business 
with biotechnologies like clonal propagation and tissue culture. 

The 'greatest biological revolution of all time' might well turn out to be the 
most effective triage against the biology of nature and women, in its response to 
the profit motive through breeding 1 super' plants, 'super' trees and 'super' seeds. 
The superiority, of course, will be determined by the reductionist mind, and 
'superiority' and 'inferiority will be new dualisms - cultural creations of a 
biotechnology based on criteria of profitability alone. The ultimate ecological 
and cultural impact of this new reductionism will be the annihilation of diversity 
and sustainability in nature and of basic human needs and rights, as a direct 

We do not need genetic engineering to put nitrogen-fixing genes on maize 
and millet when women and peasants, for centuries, have used the more 
ecological option of intercropping maize with nitrogen-fixing beans, and millet 
with nitrogen-fixing pulses. It is not that nature is inadequate, only that 
corporations cannot make profits without manipulating nature. Transferring 
nitrogen-fixing genes to cereals becomes a source of profit even as it threatens 
the source of life held in nature's seeds. And even as masculinist technologies 
destroy seeds as sources of life, genetic engineering and biotechnologies are 
held up as the solution to genetic erosion. But such confidence is highly 
misplaced, as Miguel Mota points out: 

To 'make' new varieties, breeders have to look for the desired genes, 
which may exist in an old variety or in wild plants. If such material is not 
available the difficulties may not be overcome because genetics, despite 
all the wonders it is now capable of doing, is not yet capable of 'making' 
a gene 'by measure'. We can recombine genes, transfer genes from the 
cells of a species to cells of a very different species, we can mutate 
genes, we can even 'multiply' a gene in vitro. Some of today's genetics 


would be considered wild science fiction 20 years ago. But we do not 
know how to build up a gene to make wheat resistant to - 5' C. below the 
present maximum resistance or to make it with three times more lysine 
in its flour. If we don't have these genes somewhere - maybe in an 
insignificant weed or a very old variety -we just cannot make a wheat 
with those characteristics. 63 

Because of the fact that the germ plasm of the world lies in the forests and fields 
of the Third World, either as old cultivated varieties of crops, or in the wild, the 
conservation of genetic resources lies in the hands of Third World women, 
tribals and peasants. As in all other attempts to protect the sources of life and to 
conserve the feminine principle, women peasants will probably again take the 
lead in the politics of seeds. 

The death of soils 

The fertility of the earth is contained in the thin layer of topsoil which supports 
all plant life, and which is, in turn, protected by plants. The women of Chipko 
often describe their struggle as one aimed at protecting this 'skin of the earth' 
which, when it is peeled off through erosion or damaged through loss of 
nutrients and moisture, leaves the earth wounded and diseased. Women tribals of 
Orissa sang Mati Devta Dharam Devta (the soil is our goddess, the soil is our 
faith) when they kissed the earth before being dragged away by the police in 
their struggle against the ruination of their sacred Gandhamardhan hill. 64 

Today, the soils of India are dying, and the most fertile among them are 
dying because of the violence of green revolution technologies. The carefully 
evolved soil building strategies of women's work in organic agriculture have 
been disrupted overnight by western scientific arrogance which sees fertilizer 
factories as the only source of soil nutrients, and dams and large scale irrigation 
as the only source of plant moisture. As a study from Nepal states, 'reports from 
field observations made by project researches indicate that in all the 
communities where chemical fertilizer is in common use, it is men who decide 
on and apply them, while women have almost the complete responsibility for 
preparation and application of organic manure. The important role of women in 
organic agriculture has already been discussed. Here we will focus on how 
organic practises build and protect soils. 



Fertilizer application by sex 

















































Soil-building strategies of traditional agriculture 

Soil erosion is a major problem in India, and is more prevalent where mixed 
crops have been replaced by monocultures. As the International Institute for 
Tropical Agriculture has shown, soil erosion and run-off losses are 
proportionately less from mixed as compared with sole cropping systems. 65 


Soil loss and run-off with monoculture (cassava) and mixed cropping 

(cassava with maize) 


Soil loss 

( tonnes/ha/annum ) 
Monoculture Mixed 


Run- off (%) 

Monoculture Mixed 






















Mixed cropping, especially with leguminous associates of cereals, also enhances 
soil fertility through nitrogen fixing. The mixing of cereals and pulses, as is the 
traditional practise in India, tends to help both crops and soils. Traditional 
cropping patterns are always based on production of organic matter as food and 
nutrition for the soil, either directly or through animals. Crop residues and 
animal waste are recycled carefully to maintain soil fertility and prevent soil 
erosion. Table 1 1 shows how soil erosion is linked to the organic matter content 
of soils. 66 

TABLE 1 1 

Effect of mulch rate on run-off and soil loss on uncropped land 
(rainfall = 61.1 mm) 

Mulch rate ( tonne s/hci ) 


Soil loss (tonnes/ha) 













Mixed cropping and organic manuring also reduce the risk of crop failure 
through reducing vulnerability to drought and pests. In and zones where 
vegetative growth both in forests as well as farms is entirely dependent on 
recharge of soil moisture, organic matter or humus enhances the water 
retentivity of soils by two to five times. This mechanism of conserving water as 
soil moisture is of vital importance in the tropics where rainfall is seasonal and 
has to be effectively stored in the soil to support plant growth during the and 
periods. Conserving soil moisture is an insurance against desertification in and 
climates. 67 The All India Coordinated Project on Dryland Farming has shown 
that mulch was responsible for increased food productivity in dryland farming. 68 



Vertical mulching and sorghum yields/grain yield (kg/ha) 

Interval of vertical mulch 






4 rn 




8 rn 








Besides the technology of water conservation in soil through organic matter, 
intercropping is another technology for avoiding crop failure in rainfed farming. 
Sole-cropped sorghum has been found to fail once in eight years and pigeon-pea 
once in five years, but a sorghum-pigeon-pea intercrop fails only once in 36 
years in experiments carried out by the Project on Dryland Farming. 

Green revolution : a recipe for desertification 

The crisis of desertification and the death of soils has been the result of the 
following aspects of the green revolution policy: (a) introduction of large scale 
monocultures and uniform cropping patterns; ( b ) high nutrient uptake and low 
organic nutrient returns to soil by the new hybrid varieties of crops; and (c) high 
water demand and low water conservation functions of the new hybrid and cash 
crop cultivation. There has, consequently, been increased soil and nutrient loss, 
water-logging, salinisation and drought and desertification. 

It has been the assumption of the green revolution that the nutrient loss and 
deficit can be made up by the one-time use of non-renewable inputs of potash, 
phosphorous and nitrates as chemical fertilizers. Phosphorous and potash 
derived from geological deposits, and petroleum-derived nitrogen are a 
non-renewable input, the extraction and processing of which have their own 
negative externalities. Western reductionist thinking has led most analysts to see 
only the possibilities of supplying nutrients for intensive food production 
systems from virgin sources. The narrowness of this vision has thus led us to 
plan and rely on development solutions which are non-sustainable. Such a model 
based on dramatic increases in the use of virgin nutrients which have markedly 
escalating costs and finite reserves is clearly non-sustainable. Howard has called 
this the NPK mentality, the roots of which according to him lie in the Great War. 
'The feature of the manuring of the west is the use of artificial manures. The 
factories engaged during the Great War in the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen 


for the manufacture of explosives had to find other markets; the use of nitro- 
genous fertilizers in agriculture increased, until today the majority of farmers 
and market gardeners base their manurial programme on the cheapest forms of 
nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) on the market. What may be 
conveniently described as the NPK mentality dominates farming alike in the 
experimental stations and the countryside. Vested interests, entrenched in a time 
of national emergency, have gained a stranglehold.’ 69 

The experience of the green revolution in Punjab clearly demonstrates that 
the chemical approach to soil fertility has its limits. Increased NPK applications 
are not able to maintain productivity, and the Punjab Agriculture University's 
research has shown that organic inputs are necessary to maintain yields. 70 Green 
manure has been found to increase yields of crops such as mustard and 
pigeon-pea as shown in Tables 13 and 14. 


Impact of green manuring on grain yield of mustard (t/ha). 




green manuring 

With green 

Response to 
green manuring 






















Impact of green manuring on grain yield of pigeon-pea (t/ha) 




green manuring 

With green 

Response to 
green manuring 














60 0.94 1.42 0.48 

Mean 0.72 1.21 0.49 

The organic route to soil fertility which was excluded by the chemical route 
of the green revolution is in conflict with the latter because it changes the very 
basis of categories of productivity and yield in the reductionist paradigm there is 
a bias to see straw production as 'waste' and hence to engineer crops to reduce 
the straw-grain ratio. Similarly, green manure crops which were not sold but 
used to recycle nutrients in the field were seen as 'waste' in the commercial 
context but are now emerging as productive in the ecological context. Conflicts 
over concepts of fertility are conflicts over concepts of productivity, based either 
on the inclusion or exclusion of the feminine principle. The crisis of the green 
revolution is the conflict of interest created in each individual farmer between 
producing biomass for maintaining the nutrient cycle, and producing biomass to 
sell on the market. The ecological and feminine imperative demands that the 
former not be neglected, but the masculinist definition of 'rationality' and 
'progressiveness' as profit maximisation forces the farmers to act against the 
ecological option. If, however, rationality is defined as sustainable resource use, 
the green revolution is no longer a miracle and its 'improvements' at the 
scientific and economic levels disappear, in the holistic perspective the 
indigenous agricultural technologies, aimed primarily at managing and 
maintaining the nutrient cycle, emerge as superior to the green revolution option 
because they provide food to the soil and to society. The problem with the green 
revolution has been that each component of the food production system has been 
seen in isolation, and the solution to the production problem has been seen as 
providing chemical nutrients to the soil from fertilizer factories. The Punjab 
experience shows that chemicals can never be a substitute for the organic 
production of nutrients. 

Diseases of micro-nutrient deficiency and toxicity 71 

After a few years of bumper harvests with the green revolution in Punjab, crop 
failures were reported at a large number of sites, despite liberal applications of 
NPK fertilizer. The new threat came from micro-nutrient deficiency caused by 
rapid and continuous removal of the micro-nutrient by high yielding varieties. 
Intensive multiple cropping is drawing out micro-nutrients from soils at a very 
rapid rate creating micro-nutrient deficiency of zinc, iron, copper, manganese, 


magnesium, molybdenum, boron and other trace elements. These deficiencies 
do not occur with organic manuring because organic matter contains and renews 
all these trace elements, in balance, while chemical NPK does not. 

Zinc deficiency is the most widespread of all micro-nutrient deficiencies. 
Over half of the 8,706 soil samples from Punjab exhibited zinc deficiency, 
which has reduced yields of rice, wheat and maize by upto 3.9 tonnes, 1.98 
tonnes and 3.4 tonnes per ha, respectively. Consumption of zinc sulphate rose 
from zero in 1969-70 to nearly 15,000 tonnes in 1984-85. Iron deficiency has 
been reported from Punjab, Haryana. Andhra Pradesh. Bihar, Gujarat and Tamil 
Nadu, and is threatening yields of rice, wheat, groundnut, sugarcane, etc. 
Manganese is another micro-nutrient which has become deficient in Punjab 
soils. Sulphur deficiency, which was earlier noticed only in oilseed and pulse 
crops, has now been seen in cereals like wheat as well. 

The disturbance of the nutrient balance in the soil takes place through either 
depletion of trace elements or their excess. The green revolution has also 
resulted in soil toxicity by introducing excess quantities of trace elements in 
ecosystems. Fluorine toxicity has been introduced with irrigation by the 
Nagarjuna Sagar project. Twenty-six million hectares of India's lands are 
affected by aluminium toxicity. In Hoshiarpur district of Punjab, boron, iron, 
molybdenum and selenium toxicity has built up with green revolution practices 
and is posing a threat to crop production as well as animal health. 

A non-sustainable agriculture has depleted the soil of its organic matter and 
nutrients, and has introduced hazards of toxicity in their place, besides of course 
introducing the nitrate pollution of water systems through chemical fertilizers, 
and the pesticide pollution of entire ecosystems. These are ecological 
imbalances created by the nutrient demands of the high-yielding varieties. There 
is a second group of problems created in fertile soils which arise from the high 
water demands of these varieties and the spread of intensive irrigation to meet 
these demands. 

Waterlogged and saline deserts 

Green revolution varieties and cropping patterns need much more water than 
indigenous varieties and traditional crops. High yielding varieties of wheat, for 
example, need about three times as much irrigation as traditional varieties. 
Further, multiple cropping necessitates irrigation throughout the year; while 
such cropping based on short duration varieties should have increased 


agricultural productivity it has, instead, created waterlogged or salt-laden deserts 
intensive irrigation has introduced more water into ecosystems than the natural 
drainage capacity of soils or topographies allow. This causes a rise in the water 
table and consequent water-logging. Water-logging reduces soil aeration, leads 
to anaerobic conditions, restricts root growth and can severely affect plant 
growth. It is the obverse of desertification through aridisation. Black cotton soils 
are the most vulnerable to water-logging because of their high water retentivity. 
This natural quality has made them fertile under rainfed or prudent irrigation 
conditions. The same quality has turned them into deserts by inappropriate 
irrigation and cultivation practices, Closely related to the problem of 
water-logging is the creation of salinity - the salt poisoning of arable lands in 
regions of scarce rainfall, the earth contains a large amount of unleached salts. 
Irrigating soils in such zones brings the salt to the surface, because as the 
irrigation water evaporates, it leaves a whitish residue of salt behind. This 
salinisation destroyed Mesopotamian agriculture. Today, salt infestation, which 
includes salinity and alkalinity, threatens one -third of the world's irrigated lands. 
The salt-affected soils in India are estimated to be about seven mhs.; Table 15 
gives the extent of lands destroyed by salinity and alkalinity in various regions. 72 

Several areas in the state of Punjab 73 are affected by water- logging and 
salinity. It is estimated that about 2.86 lakh hectares have a water table depth of 
less than 1.5 metres even in the dry and hot month of June. The water table 
further rises by 0.5 to 1.2 metres during the monsoons. These areas are normally 
subjected to water-logging, the degree depending upon the topography of the 
area. The water table depth in different regions of Punjab, and the distribution of 
waterlogged areas in different districts of Punjab are given in Table 16. As 
indicated in the Table, the major problem of water-logging is in the south-west 
districts of Punjab, i.e., Faridkot, Ferozepur and Bhatinda. 

Areas of salinity 

Broad group States in which found Approximate 

area (million ha) 

Coastal salt-affected soils 

In arid regions Gujarat 0.714 

In deltaic and regions West Bengal, Orissa, 

Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu 1 .394 


Acid soils 

Salt-affected soils of the 
medium and dddp 
black soil regions 
Salt-affected soils of the 

and and semi-arid regions 
Sodic soils of the Indo- 
Gangetic plain 


Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, 
Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra 

Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab 
Haryana, Uttar Pradesh 
Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, 
Bihar, Rajasthan Madhya Pradesh 








Distribution of waterlogged areas in different districts of Punjab 
(water table less than 1.5 m, June 1983) 


Waterlogged area 


(lakh hectares ) 

in each 


































Total = 2.86 lakh hectares 

Faridkot and Ferozepur districts alone have about a metre depth of 2.14 and are 
affected by salinity and sodicity. Bhatinda is the next badly affected district, 


where it has been estimated that about 0.7 lakhs hectares are severely salt 
affected and produce either no or poor crop yields. 

Large parts of the state of Karnataka have also lost fertile land through 
water-logging and salinisation caused by excessive irrigation and seepage from 
reservoirs and canals. 74 2,400 ha of land are waterlogged in the command area 
out of 75,974 ha irrigated in the Malaprabha project. Two thousand ha of land 
have become waterlogged out of the 1,43,417 ha in the Ghatprabha project. In 
the Tungabhadra project, 33,000 ha are waterlogged out of 36,300,000 ha. 
Hydrographs of wells have indicated that the average rate of rise in the water 
table due to irrigation is 13 cm. per year. 

TAB IE 17 

Rise of water table in the Tungabhadra command area 


Period of 

in depth 
of water 
Table (m ) 
From to 

rise in 




Paddy & sugarcane area 
Kamalapur Apr 77 - May 81 




0. 14 


Jun 78 - Jun 81 





Well No. 1 

Jun 77 - Dec 80 





Well No. 2 

May 77 - May 80 





Well No. 1 

May 79 -May 81 





Well No. 2 

May 77 - may 81 





Well No. 3 

May 77 - May 80 





Dry-cum-wet crops area 
Lakshmipura Apr 74 - June 80 






Aug 78 - Jul 81 





Effects due to canal seepage 


Venkatapura Jul 74 - Jul 80 1.70 1.50 0.20 0.03 

Somanhal May 77 -Apr 81 2.50 1.90 0.60 0.15 

* In addition to dry-cum-wet irrigation, seepage from the nearby pond has contributed to the 
increased rate of rise in water tables. 

Areas around Yellapura, Genekenal and a few other villages have become 
swamps. Extensive development of saline crusts (2 to 4 cm thick) due to 
water-logging has taken place in soils near Kurugodu, Bailur, Gotur, 
Lakshmipura and Sangankal. With the building of large dams and large 
irrigation works to support the green revolution, prosperous peasants have been 
turned into paupers overnight. Instead of paying them compensation, the 
government has come to collect 'betterment levy' - a tax meant to recover the 
capital costs on irrigation projects. In the early'80s, farmers in the command 
areas of the Ghatprabha and Malaprabha projects refused to pay the tax because 
their land had been destroyed by water-logging. Peasants, including women, 
were fired at and some killed, during this early movement to protect their soils 
and their rights. A slogan used by the peasants during that resistance was: 'Who 
gives you food? What do you give in return?'which showed up the bankruptcy of 
an agricultural development which has neglected the rights of soils and of 
peasants, the primary producers of food. 

In North India, a movement called 'Mitti Bachao Abhiyan' (Save the Soil 
Campaign) 75 has grown out of fanners’ resistance to the water-logging caused by 
the Tawa dam in Hoshangabad in the Narmada Valley System. Before the dam, 
Hoshangabad produced rich quantities of rainfed cereals like wheat and 
sorghum, oilseeds like sesame and linseed, pulses like pigeon-pea, moong, black 
beans and lentil. These crops maintained soil fertility, provided staple foods and 
produced marketable surpluses. Irrigation has destroyed soils through 
water-logging, displaced foodcrops and even destroyed markets. Soyabean has 
been introduced in place of old crops, and while the official agencies claim that 
it has brought untold profits to farmers, they fail to mention that the 
displacement of oilseeds and pulses has meant a loss of nine crore rupees in 
Hoshangabad district alone. Irrigation has made it impossible to cultivate these 
rainfed crops. A woman from Byavra village which is waterlogged, says, 'Our 
house used to be filled with food grains like the Narmada river is filled with 
water. Today we have no food at all.' 


The Narmada river is now to have 30 major dams, 135 medium dams and 
3,000 small dams to be built over the next 50 years, at a cost of tens of billions of 
dollars, displacing two million people for the submergence. But given the 
experience of Tawa, farmers in the command area will also be displaced 
eventually, because their soils will be killed through water-logging or 

While the green revolution is creating waterlogged and saline deserts in the 
command areas of large irrigation projects, it is simultaneously causing water 
depletion in other regions both by damming and diverting rivers as well as by 
over-exploiting ground water. The high nutrient and water demands for green 
revolution varieties are a principal cause for the death and desertification of 
agricultural land in the Third World. The solution to the problems of nutrient 
imbalance, water-logging and salinisation within the green revolution paradigm 
are neither cost-effective nor sustainable. Even the prosperous farmers of Punjab 
cannot afford the Rs. 16,000 per ha that is needed for introducing tile drains to 
drain excess irrigation water; nor can they afford micro-nutrient costs in addition 
to the already exhorbitant costs Of NPK fertilizer. Micronutrient treatment 
carries the hazard of building up soil toxicity: the solution of flushing out salts 
with inputs of additional water needs too much money and too much water, both 
of which are scarce. 

Groundwater mining and the creation of dry deserts 

The water-intensive pattern of the green revolution has created water famine and 
land aridisation in dry zones where irrigation is being done from groundwater. 
Cash crop cultivation of sugarcane, grapes and oranges has left most of the soils 
of Maharashtra thirsty for water. The shallow wells used for protective irrigation 
of crops like sorghum have dried up due to over-exploitation of deeper wells 
through energised pumping for cash crops. Groundwater mining has created an 
aquifer drought; water tables in large parts of the country have fallen from 
depths of 10-30 ft. to 300-400 ft., making even drinking water inaccessible to 
village communities. With the drying up of water sources, the soil too is dying, 
and each year's crop failure leaves it more impoverished and arid. The life of 
water and soils has been traded for a few years of cash. 

Respecting the rights of the soil 


We have had two decades of large-scale and rapid destruction of fertile 
agricultural soils in India as a result of the very processes which attempted to 
increase agricultural productivity. We have also had failed attempts at 
'technological fixes' to the problem of dying soils from the very agencies which 
designed the green revolution technologies. The solution to the crisis of dying 
soils cannot lie in the hands of those who first created the problem, who look 
only to the market, not to the life of the soil or the work of women as soil 
builders. The healing and recovery of soils will not emerge by continuing to 
cling to the market as an organising principle for agriculture. Recovery lies in 
rediscovering natural ways of renewal and learning, once again, to see that the 
soil has a right to a share of her produce in order to renew herself. Respecting 
that right is critical to satisfying our needs. 

Under the assumption that nature is inefficient, we are rapidly undermining 
her productivity. The death of soils is just one among many of the expressions of 
the arrogance which forces us to work against nature's productivity rather than 
build on it. There is a common misperception that a concern for nature's rights is 
to ignore people's rights, and that the sustainable use of soils goes against the 
demands for food for the hungry. Yet it is not satisfying the needs of the poor 
that has killed fertile soils through desertification and disease. Water-logging 
and salinity, micro-nutrient deficiency, toxicity and the depletion of organic 
matter are direct and inevitable consequences of a philosophy of agriculture 
guided by the modern patriarchal principle of profit-maximisation. The recovery 
of soils can only take place through a philosophy which sees soil fertility, not 
cash, as agricultural capital, which sees women, not fertilizer factories, as 
nutrient suppliers, and which puts nature and human needs, not markets, at the 
centre of sustainable agriculture and land use. If soils and people are to live, we 
must stop converting soil fertility into cash and productive lands into deserts. 

Today, as western experts again flock to the Third World in search of instant 
solutions to the problem of dying soils, they often blame the victims - the 
woman, the tribal, the peasant. They forget that the 'Dust Bowl' technology for 
the manufacture of deserts from fertile soils was first mastered in the 
colonisation of native Indian lands in North America by men of European 
culture, with European techniques - the intensive use of artificial fertilizers, 
extensive practice of monoculturing, and intensive and extensive mechanisation 
which turned the fertile grasslands of Oklahoma into a desert in less than thirty 
years. As Hyams observes: 


Today it would probably be possible to turn the soil fertility of an area as 
large as die Dust Bowl into some other form of wealth, or into cash, in 
about ten years, with the aid of the enormously powerful machinery now 
available for soilfertility mining.... When, between 1889 and 1900, 
thousands of farmers were settling Oldahoma. it must have seemed to 
them that they were founding a new agricultural civilization which 
might endure as long as Egypt. The grandsons, and even the sons of 
these settlers who so swiftly became a disease of their soil, trekked from 
their ruined farmsteads, their buried or uprooted crops, their dead soil, 
with the dust of their own making in their eyes and hair, the barren sand 
of a once fertile plain gritting between their teeth.... The pitiful 
procession passed westward, an object of disgust - the God-dam'd 
Okies. But these God-dam'd Okies were the scapegoats of a generation, 
and the God who had damned them was perhaps, after all, a Goddess, 
her name Ceres, Demeter, Maia, or something older and more terrible. 
And what she damned them for was their corruption, their fundamental 
ignorance of the nature of her world, their defiance of the laws of 
co-operation and return which are the basis of life on this planet. 76 

Since then, western patriarchy's highly energy-intensive, 
chemical- intensive, water-intensive and capital-intensive agricultural 
techniques for creating deserts out of fertile soils in less than one or two decades 
has spread rapidly across the Third World as agricultural development, 
accelerated by the green revolution and financed by international development 
and aid agencies. 

The recovery of the soil as a living system needs the recovery of the 
feminine principle in agriculture, and with it a spirit of respect and care for the 
earth as caring and protective. 

Pesticides: poisoning the web of life 

With the green revolution, the very production of food is often a threat to life. 
The new seeds of this kind of agriculture are highly vulnerable to pests, and 
require a heavy use of pesticides to ensure ‘pest control' and 'plant protection'. 
Like much else in the language - and claims — of the green revolution, these too, 
are exaggerated and falsified. Pesticides, far from controlling pests, are actually 
prescriptions for fostering them, and because they create new mutants and 
increase vulnerability to old ones, they expose plants to ever new hazards. 


I have often walked with women through the terraced fields of Garhwal 
which are a mosaic of diversity. On that diversity is based plant protection, 
through the maintenance of pest-predator cycles and through building up the 
resistance of crops to pests and disease. When 1 ask the women peasants of 
Garhwal. if they have pest problems, they laugh and reply, 'Pests? What is that?' 
The absence of pest damage in ecologically sound cropping patterns and the 
evolution of pest resistant strains is in stark contrast to the new pest hazards 
which are part of the green revolution package of hybrid monocultures. We have 
already given instances of the vulnerability to pests in the new rice and sorghum 
varieties. Ragi (Elusiene coracaua) is an example of another crop which has 
been converted from a totally pest-free to a pest-prone one through green 
revolution technology. 

The farce of 'improved' varieties 

Ragi is one of India's staple coarse grains. Introduced from the Horn of Africa 
more than 40 centuries ago, it has provided a balanced diet to Indian peasants 
over millennia, and is a genuine ‘miracle’ crop - very hardy and drought 
resistant. Even under unfavourable conditions the crop maintains its growth, and 
is remarkably free from fungus and pest attacks. It was, until recently, stored in 
underground pits by women in their houses because it can keep for decades. All 
these qualities have made it an excellent crop for food security in drought-prone 
regions. It has been found that the protein of ragi is as biologically complete as 
that of milk. Writing in 1886, Church noted that ragi'is a fairly productive rainy- 
-weather crop for light soils, and may be grown almost upon stones and gravel. It 
yields from five to six maunds of grain per acre upon the hills, 12 to 14 maunds 
in the plains, if carefully cultivated and weeded.’ 77 

Traditional ragi cultivation has been based on wide genetic diversity. 
Hullubili, guddabili, karigidda, jenumudde, madayanagir basarukambi, 
doddarag biliragi, balepatte, karimurakabi, maffige, rudragade, jade 
sbankara - these are only some of the varieties that have been grown in 
Karnataka. 78 All have shared a diversity of properties of being highly nutritive, 
highly productive, pest resistant and drought resistant. Yet the crisis mind could 
not resist frying to 'improve' ragi, and in its attempt to do so, it introduced pests 
in a pest-free crop, and drought vulnerability in a drought resistant one. 

New varieties of ragi were introduced in South India in the 1960s under the 
All-India Co-ordinated Millet Improvement programme. 79 Table 18 gives the 


comparative performance of indigenous and HYV ragi during 1976-77 and 


Performance of indigenous and high yielding ragi 

Indigenous ragi 

HYV ragi 





Area (ha) 





Production (mt) 





Yield (kg/ha) 








The HYV performance in grain does not excel that of indigenous varieties 
significantly. In straw and fodder performance, the yields are lower. In fact, 
under stable cropping, as in Church's data, indigenous varieties had yields as 
high as those of HYV. 

The new INDAF varieties are not drought resistant. If rainfall is scanty or 
absent during critical stages of growth, the expected yield is never reached. 
Again, they are amenable to certain pests and diseases and if not sprayed 
regularly with pesticides, are liable to crop failure. Plant protection chemicals 
are sprayed two to five times for irrigated and one to two times for dry ragi in 
Dharmapuri district in Tamil Nadu, for example, local varieties are preferred 
because of their 'guaranteed yield' and lower costs. The additional fertilizer and 
pesticide cost per ha. of HYV ragi is Rs. 250 approximately, and is barely offset 
in the best years by slightly higher yields. In years of rainfall fluctuation or pest 


damage, the yield and income from HYV ragi are much lower than that from 
local varieties. With the HYV package, which includes pesticides, are thus sown 
the seeds of famine. The choice, as an expert of the British Agrochemicals 
Association has stated, is not between pesticides or famine: 'The effect of not 
spraying tropical crops would of course be disastrous, and the resulting famine 
would be the greatest the world has ever known.' 80 Sustainable farming systems 
that maintain high productivity are possible only through natural means of plant 
protection. Cropping systems which are ecologically unstable create pest 
problems and encourage crop failure. Pesticides aggravate this instability, and 
their poisons work against the basic biological productivity and living principles 
of crop production. Ironically, this collapse in biological productivity is the 
result of a violent pursuit of increased productivity, indifferent to nature's checks 
and balances. 

Fostering pests with pesticides 

Violence was part of the very context of discovery of pesticides during World 
War 1. The manufacture of explosives had a direct spin-off effect on the 
development of synthetic insecticides. The tear gas, chloropicrin, was found to 
be insecticidal in 1916 and thus changed from a wartime product to a peace time 
one. DDT's discovery was the culmination of a research effort motivated purely 
by commercial concerns, but the compound's adoption was inextricably 
enmeshed in the politics of war. 81 Pesticides were born as 'devastating weapons 
in man's war against his own kind'. Organophosphates, of which parathion and 
malathion are the most widely used, are aimed at destroying the nervous system, 
'whether the victim is an insect or a warm-blooded animal.' 82 

The context for the creation of pesticides was war. The metaphor for 
pesticide use in agriculture was also war. This is how the introduction to a 
textbook on pest-management reads: 

The war against pests is a continuing one that man must fight to ensure 
his survival. Pests (in particular insects) are our major competitors on 
earth and for the hundreds of thousands of years of our existence they 
have kept our numbers low and, on occasions, have threatened 
extinction. Throughout the ages man has lived at a bare subsistence 
level because of the onslaught of pests and the diseases they carry. It is 
only in comparatively recent times that this picture has begun to alter as, 


in certain parts of the world, we have gradually gained the upper hand 
over pests. 

The war story described some of the battles that have been fought 
and the continuing guerilla warfare, the type of enemies we are facing 
and some of their manoeuvres for survival; the weapons we have at our 
command ranging from the rather crude ones of the 'bow and arrow' age 
of pest control to the sophisticated weapons of the present day, 
including a look into the future of some 'secret weapons' that are in the 
trial stages; the gains that have been made; and some of the devastation 
which is a concomitant of war . 83 

But the 'war' with pests is unnecessary. The most effective pest control 
mechanism is built into the ecology of crops, partly by ensuring balanced 
pest-predator relationships through crop diversity and partly by building up 
resistance in plants. Organic manuring is now being shown to be critical to such 
a building up of resistance; women have thus been invisible plant protectors 
through their work in organic manuring. 

Reductionism fails to see the ecology of pests as well as that of pesticides 
because it is based on invisible, subtle balances within the plant and its 
environment. It therefore simplistically reduces the management of pests to the 
violent business of war with poisons. It also fails to recognise that pests have 
natural enemies with the unique property of regulating pest populations, in de 
Bach's view, 'The philosophy of pest control by chemicals has been to achieve 
the highest kill possible, and per cent mortality has been the main yardstick in 
the early screening of new chemicals in the lab. Such an objective, the highest 
kill possible, combined with ignorance of or disregard for, on-target insects and 
mites is guaranteed to be the quickest road to upsets, resurgences and the 
development of resistance to pesticides . 84 

De Bach's research on DDT -induced pest increase showed that these 
increases could be anywhere from thirty-six fold to over twelve hundred-fold. 
The aggravation of the problem is directly related to the violence unleashed on 
the natural enemies of pests. Reductionism, which fails to perceive the natural 
balance, also fails to anticipate and predict what will happen when that balance 
is disturbed. 

The introduction of pesticides is largely a function of exaggerated claims of 
the damage prevented by western male science and industry. It is also a function 
of the visibility of the effect of pesticides. Natural enemies work quietly, 


invisibly; 'the effects of chemical pesticides, on the other hand, are highly 
visible. They act quickly, multitudes of dead bugs are an impressive sight and a 
good selling point .’ 85 The drama of violence becomes the distorted and 
misguided criterion for cognitive strength. The myth of the cognitive superiority 
and success of a modern reductionist patriarchal science of death is founded on 
this illegitimate translation of violence as a sign of effectiveness. The strategy of 
overkill breeds pest out breaks, it does not regulate or control them. Why does 
the myth that modern science controls nature, persist, when it actually creates a 
nature that is completely out of control? Violence is not an indicator of control; 
its use is a sign that the system is becoming uncontrollable. 

The mystification of violence as control runs through the western patriarchal 
scientific process, beginning with the 'scientific' and 'controlled' experiment. 
Experiments on the effectiveness of pesticides are not real-life experiments, 
comparing the natural and chemical control of pests. The caricature of the 
potential natural or biological control is an untreated test-plot surrounded by 
plots located with different materials, dosages and intervals of application of 
poisons. The untreated plot therefore receives chemicals from its surroundings 
and also suffers from the effect of earlier spraying of the larger field. The natural 
enemies on this sample plot are thus destroyed, as are natural controls. Pests tend 
to explode on this check-plot and pesticide plots therefore show a greater 
amount of damage prevented! 

Yet, inspite of its complete failure in solving the problem of pest control and 
of so much destruction and violence against nature and man, pesticide sales go 
up, not down. The use of pesticides is ensured through state agricultural policy, 
pesticide subsidies and propaganda. It continues because they are 'ecological 
narcotics ', 86 their use ultimately becoming a habit. Continued pesticide use can 
render a potentially more effective biological control ineffective by destroying 
the pest-predator equation. The market for pesticides grows inspire of their 
ineffectiveness because they destroy the ecological basis of any alternative 
system of pest management, because it does not have a potential for 
profit-making. Natural enemies, not available on the market, are a common and 
free resource, but because they are specific to a particular species they have a 
limited market. Chemical pesticides by contrast, are chosen for their 
'broad-spectrum' capabilities so as to have a large market potential, thus forging 
a strong link between science, violence and profits. 


Non-violent pest control: learning from nature, women and peasants 

Non-violent ways of controlling pests have always existed. As Howard noted 
half a century ago, 'Nature has never found it necessary to design the equivalent 
of the spraying machine and the poison spray for the control of insect and fungus 
pests. It is true that all kinds of diseases are to be found here and there among the 
plants and animals of the forest, but these never assume large proportions. The 
principle followed is that plants and animals can very well protect themselves 
even when such things as parasites are to be found in their midst. Nature's rule in 
these matters is to live and let live.' 87 Howard believed that the cultivators of the 
east had a lot to teach the western expert about disease and pest control and to get 
western reductionism out of the vicious and violent circle of 'discovering more 
and more new pests and devising more and more poison sprays to destroy them'. 
When Howard came to Pusa in 1905 as the imperial Economic Botanist to the 
Government of India, he found that crops grown by cultivators in the 
neighbourhood of Pusa were free of pests and needed no insecticides and 

I decided that I could not do better than watch the operations of these 
peasants and acquire their traditional knowledge as rapidly as possible. 
For the time being, therefore, I regarded them as my professors of 
agriculture. Another group of instructors were obviously the insects and 
fungi themselves. The methods of the cultivators, if followed, would 
result in crops practically free from disease, the insects and fungi would 
be useful for pointing out unsuitable varieties and methods of farming 
inappropriate to the locality. 

At the end of five years of tuition under his new professors - 'the peasants and the 
pests' - Howard had learnt 

. . .how to grow healthy crops, practically free from disease, without the 
slightest help from mycologists, entomologists, bacteriologists, 
agricultural chemists, statisticians, clearinghouses of information, 
artificial manures, spraying machines, insecticides, fungicides, 
germicides, and all the other expensive paraphernalia of the modern 
experiment station. 88 

Howard could teach the world sustainable farming because he had the humility 
to learn it first from practising peasants and nature herself He found that the most 
effective way to control pests is the non-violent method based on the feminine 
principle, by building pest resistance in the plant, rather than by attacking pests. 


'Nature has provided a marvellous piece of machinery for conferring disease 
resistance on the crop. This machinery is only active in soil rich in humus; it is 
inactive or absent in infertile land and in similar soils manured with chemicals .' 89 
A feminine, non-violent perspective on agriculture would thus need to take 
organic manuring, largely carried out by women, as work in pest management 
and plant protection while contributing to soil fertility and soil moisture 
conservation at the same time. 

The crisis mind is, of course, now talking of engineering pest resistance into 
plants with biotechnology. This view, however, fails to see that pest resistance is 
an ecological state, not an engineered one. As Chabousson comments, 'The gene, 
the vector of heredity, can only operate as a function of the environment. Thus it 
is useless improving the resistance of a plant to such and such a disease if that 
'genetic' immunity is going to be impaired by applying a pesticide aimed at some 
other pest .' 90 

The traditional (or what the reductionist world view has labelled 
'unscientific') system of food production has managed pest control by a series of 
measures which include building up plant resistance, practising rotational and 
mixed cropping, and providing habitats for pest-predators in farms, trees and 
hedgerows. These practices created a stable local ecology and economy. Under 
ecologically stable conditions, a balance was achieved between plants and their 
pests through natural competition, selection and predator-prey relationships. 
Women are generally found to be important sources of traditional knowledge 
about essential ecological processes and relationships between plants. For 
example, the Kayape Indian women of the Amazon basin have a ritual in which 
they paint their faces with ground ant parts in the maize festival. The principal 
theme of the festival is the celebration of the little red ant as the guardian of the 
fields and a friend of the women. Apparently meaningless from the reductionist 
point of view, Posey points out that, 

the myth begins to make sense when we understand the co-evolutionary 
complex of maize, beans, manioc and this ant. Manioc produces an extra 
floral nectar that attracts the ants to the young manioc plant. The ants 
use their mandibles to make their way to the nectar, cutting away any 
bean vines that would prevent the new, fragile manioc stems from 
growing, ne twining bean vines are therefore kept from climbing on the 
manioc and are left with the maize plants as their natural trellis. The 
maize can shoot up undamaged by the bean vines, while the bean plant 


itself furnishes valuable nitrogen needed by the maize. The ants are the 
natural manipulator of nature and facilitate the horticultural activities of 
the women . 91 'Scientific' farming which saw the red ants as 'pests', upset 
this balance and created favourable conditions for the spread of disease. 
Organic fertilizer which builds up plant resistance to disease was 
replaced by chemical fertilizers which decreased plant resistance to 
pests. Since many pests are specific to particular plants, replacing crop 
rotation by the planting of the same crop year after year often 
encourages pest build-ups. Substitution of mixed crops by monocultures 
also makes the crop more prone to pest outbreaks. Mechanisation of 
farming leads to the destruction of hedgerows and farm trees and thus 
destroys the habitat for some pest predators. Birds and trees are other 
invisible workers in pest control. The Dutch elm disease which has 
killed the tree in large parts of America and Europe has been traced to 
the annihilation of the predator birds which fed on the bark beetle, which 
in turn is responsible for spreading the fungus which causes Dutch elm 
disease. As the curator of birds at the Milwaukee Public Museum said, 
'The greatest enemy of insect life is other predatory insects, birds and 
some small mammals, but DDT kills indiscriminately, including 
nature's own safeguards or policemen ... In the name of progress are we 
to become victims of our own diabolical means of insect control to 
provide temporary comfort, only to lose out to destroying insects later 
on? By what means will we control new pests which will attack 
remaining tree species after the elms are gone, when nature's safeguards 
(the birds) have been wiped out by poison ?' 92 

The cows which provide humus, the birds which feed on insects, the trees 
which provide food for cows and homes for birds, these are members of the 
earth-family on which permanent pest control strategies need to be built. 
Non-violent alternatives exist, but it needs a feminine and ecological perception 
to see them, and feminine priorities of sustaining and enhancing life to practice 

In all such practises, women play central productive and creative roles. They 
are the experts and the controllers of food security and health care systems. Their 
work and nature's work in sustainable food production today is being destroyed 
because of a new death based knowledge and development system, which puts 
violent modern man at war with the web of life in order to make profits and gain 


control over nature and the economy. While integration at the ecological level is 
being destroyed, at the corporate level it is being perpetuated. Nature and 
women, as maintainers of soil fertility, protectors of plants and managers of pest 
control and as reproducers of genetic wealth in all its diversity, are being 
displaced by a handful of multi-rational agri-business corporations run by a 
handful of western males who control fertilizer production, pesticide production 
and the seed industry, and hence control the food chain. 93 

The violence of the white revolution 

Ecologically the cow has been central to Indian civilization. Both materially and 
conceptually the world of Indian agriculture has built its sustainability on 
maintaining the integrity of the cow, considering her inviolable and sacred, 
seeing her as the mother of the prosperity of food systems. The integration of 
livestock with farming has been the secret of sustainable agriculture. Livestock 
perform a critical function in the food chain by converting organic matter into a 
form that can be easily used by plants. According to K.M. Munshi, India's first 
agriculture minister after independence, 'The mother cow and the Nandi are not 
worshipped in vain. They are the primeval agents who enrich the soil - nature's 
great land transformers - who supply organic matter which, after treatment, 
becomes nutrient matter of the greatest importance. In India, tradition, religious 
sentiment and economic needs have tried to maintain a cattle population large 
enough to maintain the cycle, only if we know it.’ 94 

The sanctity of the cow as a source of prosperity in agriculture was linked to 
the need for conserving its integration with crop production. By using crop 
wastes and uncultivated land, indigenous cattle do not compete with man for 
food; rather, they provide organic fertilizer for fields and thus enhance food 
productivity. Within the sacredness of the cow therefore, lies this ecological 
rationale and conservation imperative. The work of the cow as a source of 
fertilizer through cowdung energy, nutrition and leather, was linked to the work 
of women in feeding and milking cows, in collecting cowdung, in nurturing 
them in ill health. Women have thus been the primary experts in animal 
husbandry as well as the food processors in the traditional dairy industry, 
making curds and butter, ghee and buttermilk. Their contribution to the Indian 
economy through their work with cattle has been very significant. 

An attempt was made in 1932 to estimate the monetary contribution of 
Indian cattle to the Indian economy 


The actual and potential value of cattle products is very great. Milk and 
milk products may be valued at about three hundred crores. This is 
roughly equivalent to the value of India's total output of rice, and is three 
to four times the value of the output of wheat. India is also the largest 
exporter of hides and skins in the British Empire, her yearly output of 
this group of products being valued at about roughly forty crores of 
rupees, or more than the value of the total Indian production of sugar. 
Cattle labour also represents an important contribution of livestock to 
Indian agriculture, the monetary value calculated on the basis of 
cultivation costs being estimated at between three hundred to five 
hundred crores of rupees. The value of cattle as a means of raising the 
fertility of the soil cannot be readily computed. One estimate places the 
cash value of cattle manure at two hundred and seventy crores of 
rupees. 95 

It should be noted that two-thirds and more of the power requirements of 
Indian villages are met by some 80 million work animals of which 70 million are 
the male progeny of what the western masculinist perspective sees as 'useless' 
low milk-yielding cows. It has been calculated that to replace animal power in 
agriculture, India would have to spend about a thousand million U.S. dollars 
annually on petrol. Indian cattle excrete 700 million tonnes a year of recoverable 
manure: half of this is used as fuel, liberating the thermal equivalent of 27 
million tonnes of kerosene, 35 million tonnes of coal or 68 million tonnes of 
wood, all of which are scarce resources in India; the remaining half is used as 
fertilizer. As for other livestock produce, it may be sufficient to mention that the 
export of hides, skins, etc. brings in 150 million dollars annually into the 
national coffers. With limited resources, indigenous cattle produce a multiplicity 
of uses. 

In India, cattle use 29 per cent of the organic matter provided to them, 22 per 
cent of the energy, and three per cent of the protein, in contrast to nine, seven and 
five per cent respectively in the intensive cattle industry in the U.S. Indian cattle 
provide food in excess of the edible food consumed, in contrast to the U.S. 
where six times as much edible food is fed to cattle as is obtained from them. 97 



Inputs and useful outputs from 
U.S. cattle and Indian cattle and buffalo (1972) 

Inputs and 


U. S. 


<10 10 kg) 



( 10 I2 Calorjes ,) 
U.S India 


(10 9 kg) 

U.S. India 


Edible by man 







inedible by man 










































16. 16 










Efficiency (%) 







Source: Reprinted from Agriculture: A Sacred Cow,' by Bruce Leon, Environment , Vol. 17, No. 9, 
p. 38. (1975), Scientists' Institute for Public Information. 

Yet this highly efficient food system, based on the multiple uses of cattle, 
has been dismantled in the name of efficiency and 'development' by the 
reductionist strategies of the green and white revolutions splitting and 
dichotomising an integrated system of crop production and animal husbandry, 
necessary for maintaining each other sustainably, With the green and white 
revolutions, competition replaces complementarity, linearity replaces cyclical 
processes, high inputs replace low inputs, and single -commodity outputs replace 
multi-dimensional uses. A shift is consequently made from technologies which 
strengthen life-sustaining eco-processes to anti-life technologies which disrupt 
them. Since it is women who are partners with nature in maintaining the cyclical 
and sustainable flows of fertility between crops and cattle, the disruption of 


nature's work and women's work goes hand in hand. The separation of crop 
production from animal husbandry destroys the ecological processes of 
sustainable farming, by eroding its organic matter base. Women's work in the 
organic integrity between livestock and crops is also destroyed with this 
separation. The green revolution shifts the fertilizer base of agriculture from 
renewable and sustainable organic inputs to non-renewable, non-sustainable, 
chemical ones, making both cattle, and women's work with cattle, dispensable to 
the production of food grain. The white revolution, aping the inefficient and 
wasteful animal husbandry and dairying practices of the west, destroys the 
civilizational base of the world's most evolved dairy culture, and displaces 
women from their role in the dairy processing industry. 

The green revolution has emerged as an enemy to the white, as the high 
yielding crop varieties have reduced straw production, and their by-products are 
unpalatable to livestock; they are thus useless as fodder. Further, hybrid crops 
deprive the soil of nutrients, creating deficiencies in fodder and disease in 
livestock. The white revolution, in turn, instead of viewing livestock as 
ecologically integrated with crops has reduced the cow to a mere milk machine. 
As Shanti George observes, 'The trouble is that when dairy planners look at the 
cow, they see just her udder; though there is much more to her. They equate 
cattle only with milk, and do not consider other livestock produce - draught 
power, dung for fertilizer and fuel, hides, skins, horn and hooves . 98 

Milk in India has been only one of the many products of the 
inter-dependence between agriculture and animal husbandry. This is why India 
has bred dual purpose cattle, optimising both the draught power and milk output, 
and maintaining a complementarity between different productive processes and 
between' the needs of humans and animals. The relationship in India between 
agriculture and animal husbandry has evolved over centuries to be mutually 
enriching. Cattle are primarily viewed as agents of production in the food 
system; only secondarily are they viewed as producing consumable items. By 
making the subsidiary function primary and exclusive, the white revolution 
threatens to damage the delicate balance between soils and animals which has 
conserved productivity over centuries. As cautioned by the Royal Commission 
and by the ICAR, 'If milk production is unduly pushed up, it may cause 
deterioration in the draught quality of the cattle and indirectly affect the entire 
basis of agriculture in India . 99 


Hybridisation as genetic violence 

The white revolution came from the west to 'improve' dairying practises in that 
part of the world which had placed the cow at its ecological centre. The feminine 
principle was embodied in the cow, and was based on relatedness and integration 
within the agrarian system on the one hand, and genetic diversity on the other. 
India has produced some of the world's best tropical cattle breeds - among them 
the Sahiwal, the Red Sindhi, Rathi, Tharparhar, Hariana, Ongole, Kankreji and 
Gir. These were carefully evolved over centuries to suit the diverse ecological 
needs of the country. 

It may perhaps have taken many thousands of years for our forefathers 
to evolve the best dairy and draught breeds for the tropics ... who could 
be kept under a tree in hot summer, who could drink village pond water, 
could stand up to fly and mosquito nuisance and tropical disease, and 
who could live on grazing and monsoonic grass or on roughages which 
are available as agricultural by products . 100 

The centuries-old breeding strategies were evolved and maintained by 
indigenous experts, who were 'scientific' breeders, although they did not have 
university degrees behind their names or present papers at workshops. These 
invisible scientists were women and men of nomadic communities based in the 
dry interior regions where cultivation pressures were low and access to natural 
pasture high. The specialised skills and knowledge of these breeding castes are 
not, however, a component of the 'science' of the white revolution. Dairy 
scientists now are the western educated males of urban India, in whose 
perspective these erstwhile specialist breeders are hardly thought to be either 
scientists or professionals, and who do not see India's cattle as genetically 
evolved through careful selection. They homogenise their genetic diversity in 
the name of 'development', to create a high risk and fragmented animal 
husbandry strategy. The pure indigenous breeds are replaced by homogenised 
hybrids of the Zebu cow with exotic strains like the jersey, Holstein, Friesian, 
Red Dane and Brown Swiss, to improve the Zebu's dairy productivity. Like 
much else in reductionist development, this strategy is highly inappropriate to 
Indian agriculture because, as Harris has pointed out, 'If the main economic 
function of the Zebu cow is to breed male traction animals, then there is no point 
in comparing her with specialised American dairy animals, whose main function 
is to produce milk .' 101 Shanti George wryly comments, 'When the milk produced 
by Danish and Indian cows is compared, it might be instructive to ask how the 


work performance of the Danish bull measures up to that of his Indian 
counterpart. 102 

The 'improvement' of Indian cattle through cross-breeding with exotic 
strains is as fictitious as the high yields of hybrid seeds. Hybridisation in cattle 
and crops, when guided by reductionist principles, creates a fiction of growth 
and a reality of fragmentation, disruption and destruction. Ecologically, this 
violates the integrity of systems and species; economically, it creates scarcity by 
destroying critical functions and outputs of ecosystems. The breakdown of the 
integrated nutrient cycle in the farm is one aspect: the breakdown of the cattle 
system itself is another. 

Indigenous breeds, evolved over centuries, are specially adapted to the 
Indian climate. They have extra epidermal area for increased heat tolerance, 
light skin colour for comfort in sunlight, long ears and tails to keep insects away, 
a hump to store muscular fat. Crossbreeding with exotics breeds out these 
adaptation strategies. Tropical nature is no longer habitat but hazard. Temperate 
straws make cross-breeds strangers to the Indian climate, leading to depressed 
yields. As Singh points out, large-scale cross-breeding is feasible only 'if the 
agro-climatic conditions of January to March can be maintained throughout the 
year . 103 This means that either hybrid cows live in airconditioned housing and 
animal husbandry as a livelihood option no longer exists for the poorest 
communities, or that the maladaptation of cattle in the heat of summer and the 
humidity of the monsoons is an inevitable handicap. 

With climatic maladaptation, the innate disease resistance of indigenous 
stock is drastically lowered. The simple act of taking a cow out to graze, a 
standard mode of milch-stock nutrition in villages, is fraught with hazards in the 
case of a cross-bred that will pick up ticks and fleas and consequent illnesses. 
Not only are hybrids more vulnerable to disease, they have imported new 
ailments such as viral pneumonia, bovine rhinotractitis, malignant catehral 
fever, bovine viral diarrhoea, tuberculosis and ephemeral fever . 104 

Like hybrid crops, hybrid cattle also demand resource- intensive inputs. For 
each intensively reared cross-bred cow, about two million calories of food may 
be lost per year... enough for the annual food supply of two persons. The 
unhybridised cattle live on agricultural by-products and waste. Cross-breds, 
however, like hybrid crops, respond only to intensive inputs like green fodder 
and concentrated feeds, which puts new pressures on land. According to Shanti 


There is only one thing amiss with the cross-bred cow: she is in the 
wrong country. Wrong not so much in terms of agro-climatic 
circumstances, since there are such things as airconditioners and 
vaccines, as from the viewpoint of the milch-stock owners of this 
country, the large majority of whom cannot provide adequate basic 
nutrition and health care for their children, let alone expensive 
equivalents for hybrid livestock, in many parts of India, indeed, it must 
be more comfortable to be a large holder's cross-bred cow than to be a 
small farmer's child. We are told, for example, that while most rural 
Indians have to drink from the pond, crossbred cows get clean water. In 
the Anand region that boasts the most elaborate and efficient veterinary 
system in India, they say it is easier to get a doctor for a sick animal than 
for a sick human being. 105 

The white revolution is an excellent example of reductionism. It has reduced 
the cow to a milk machine, and milk merely into a commodity for sale, not an 
essential nutritive product which should be consumed in rural areas. The 
capitalist shift from need to markets is related to a capitalist patriarchal shift 
from household dairy processing to factory processing and from high labour 
inputs to high capital inputs. This shift has displaced women's work and their 
control on income from milk produce. The major indigenous dairy products are 
ghee, its by product, buttermilk, curds, cottage cheese and khoya which can be 
made in every rural kitchen and preserved without refrigeration. The National 
Commission on Agriculture estimates that 45 per cent of India's milk is 
consumed in liquid form, 39 per cent converted to ghee and five per cent 
processed into khoya. And while ghee is sold, nutritious buttermilk remains for 
local consumption. The white revolution propaganda would have us believe that 
before the EEC and World Bank aided dairy development, India had no dairy 
industry and no trade in milk products. It declared that the traditional dairy 
industry, controlled by women, was a 'vast inefficient structure of traditional 
milk production and marketing'. 106 Records however show that ghee processed 
by rural women travels better than the milk processed in expensive dairy plants. 

The white revolution has thus diverted milk from basic rural needs to dairy 
foods for the elite, modelled on western consumption patterns, such as butter, 
cheese and dried skimmed milk and chocolates. Seventy per cent of milk 
procured by dairy plants in India is manufactured into these products, consumed 
by only two per cent of the population. Expensive methods of collection, chil- 


ling, transportation, processing, testing, packaging and advertising are employed 
for the manufacture and marketing of luxury dairy products by government, 
cooperative and private sector factories. These are used mainly by the affluent, 
either directly or indirectly through such products as ice-cream, biscuits, 
chocolates, etc. The economic reductionism inherent in the white revolution 
logic of seeing cows as producers of milk as a commodity, has various levels of 
violence against women and children built in. Rural women are violated by the 
negation of their role as animal husbandry experts and dairy food producers. 
Churning the curd for making ghee and buttermilk has been a symbol of this 
productivity. The white revolution removed this churning from the domain of 
women's work to an imported dairy processing plant run by men, thus 
simultaneously diverting nutrition away from rural to urban areas. 

The white revolution, by turning milk into a commodity, has totally 
deprived rural children of their access to dairy nutrition. In villages not affected 
by its strategy, people continue to sell ghee and retain buttermilk for local 
consumption while in the white revolution villages they sell fluid milk and retain 
nothing for self consumption. The marketing of ghee does not entail an 
anguished choice between money and nutrition, because buttermilk, which 
retains the nutritive part of the milk, is consumed in villages and given away free 
to the poor. By contrast, with the marketing of fresh milk, rural producers are 
faced with the 'pain” choice of feeding milk to dairies like Amul or to their 
children'. Villages in Gujarat, the home of the white revolution, have very 
serious nutritional deficiencies, In children below five years, there is a high 
incidence of protein-calorie malnutrition since adequate quantities of milk are 
not available as a weaning food . 107 Urban children are also violated nutritionally, 
because what is a 'value added' Process for the dairy industry is a 'value 
annihilation' process from the point of view of nutrition, The divorce between 
food-value and profit-value applies as much to dairy products as it does to other 
foods processed by modem industry. Products that generate high profits, such as 
baby foods and chocolates, are health hazards, not sources of nutrition. 

Fragmentation of nature: integration of markets 

Just as the green revolution replaced local ecological integration by commercial 
integration at the level of global markets and the manufacture of pesticides, 
fertilizers and seeds, the white revolution has replaced local ecological linkages 
between fodder, cattle and food with global commercial linkages between trade 


in cattlefeed and in milk products and substitutes. While livestock genes are 
imported from the north countries to fragment the integrity of India's indigenous 
genetic resources in livestock, and western dairy technologies and equipment are 
imported to violate the integrity of women's and nature's work in dairying and 
agriculture, a further violation to land and food systems is induced by the export 
of cattle -feed. 

The white revolution has a major oilseeds component. Its policy of 
'demand-led marketing' makes the flow of milk and cattle -feed follow 
purchasing power instead of need, threatening the very basic rights of children to 
nutrition. Soya bean, cultivated largely for cattle-feed for the north, is being 
spread throughout the south under oilseeds programmes, displacing traditional 
staple food crops integrated with soil and nutrition patterns. Soya was disco- 
vered as a 'miracle bean' by western agri-business. Grain trading multinationals 
like Gargill, Continental and Bunge which, with Louis Dreyfus and Andre 
Garnac, control 50 per cent of the world grain trade, also control the soya trade 
now, especially as inputs for the cattle-feed industry. 108 The nice thing with soya 
in the corporate perspective is that unlike traditional oilseeds and beans, it needs 
industrial processing and is eminently suitable for feeding factories instead of 
stomachs. It cannot be processed locally by women, like traditional oilseeds 
whose oilcake made very important cattle -feed. Hungry stomachs and 
malnutritioned children are however the justification for the large scale spread of 
overcoming edible oil scarcity. However, replacing traditional oilseeds by soya 
bean, an introduced crop, is once again based on the myth of productivity 
increase. The average oil recovery from soyabean is only 144 kg/ha, against 175 
kg/ha from mustard seed and 150 kg/ha from groundnut. As an oilseed, soya 
bean is quite clearly unproductive. The hidden agenda for the spread of soya 
bean is not the production of oil but of oilcake for export. De-oiled cake 
recovery is as much as 655 kg in the case of soya bean, against 325 kg for 
mustard seed and 200 kg for groundnut, in less than a decade the production of 
soya bean has reached 1 II lakh tonnes in India. 109 As late as 1976 the cultivation 
of soya bean was insignificant. By 1982-83 it was 3.58 lakh tonnes and by 1990, 
it is expected to reach 30 lakh tonnes. India exports 1.5 million tonnes of oilcake 
as cattle -feed, 50 per cent of it to the EEC. Exports of oilcake tripled in 1986. 110 
Global dairying interests are thus putting European dairy cattle in direct 
competition with Indian people for the produce from India's land through 
development projects like the white revolution, which are ostensibly aimed at 


improving the availability of food and nutrition to people in India. Food entitle- 
ments are going down through the disruption of crop and livestock links on the 
farm, through milk export from rural areas and through feed exports from the 
country. The absurdity and violence of disintegration at the local ecosystem 
level and integration at the global commodity trade level is apparent when the 
cattle in the EEC countries are annihilated for 'overproduction '. 111 The cattle of 
both regions are thus rendered dispensable by a reductionist logic of dairy 
development controlled by transnational business interests. Indigenous cattle are 
bred out for being 'inferior' and European and American cattle are killed for 
producing surplus. The cow which was transformed into a milk machine by 
reductionist logic is next destroyed by the full unfolding of that logic. With the 
cow go the small people whose prosperity was linked to the cow - the small dairy 
producer in the North as much as the small livestock owner in India. And as the 
old generation of biological reductionism in turning the cow into a dispensable 
milk machine runs into trouble worldwide, the new miracle of biotechnologies 
and genetic engineering is sold to further increase the milk output of cows, and 
further threaten the livelihood of the small producer. Multinationals like Elanco 
(a subsidiary of Eli Lilly), Cynamid, Monsanto and Upjohn are all rushing to put 
BST, bovine somatrophin, on the market inspite of controversy and anxiety 
about its ecological impact . 112 Somatrophins are proteins which tell the body 
what to do with the energy generated from food. BST producing genes have 
been inserted into the DNA of bacteria through genetic engineering, and the 
growth hormone is now being produced in commercial quantities by drug 
multinationals. When injected daily into cows, BST diverts energy to milk 
production. One of the problems not yet overcome is that there is a chance that 
cows may get emaciated if too much energy is diverted to produce milk. A 
second problem is that, as in all other 'Miracles' of modern science in agriculture, 
the gain in milk production is conditional on a number of other factors such as 
industrial feed and computerised feeding equipment and programmes . 113 Just as, 
in the first phase of the white revolution, women were displaced from the 
processing sector and their control over milk, removed, so with genetic 
engineering, they are being marginalised in their role of caring for cows. This 
activity is now in the hands of men and machines. 

The inherent violence of the white revolution as reductionism in livestock 
management lies in the manner in which it treats the needs of small people 
throughout the world as dispensable, and living resources merely as raw material 


for commodity production, dispensable in the logic of the market if they produce 
the wrong thing in the wrong quantity. The same global commoditisation 
processes which render Indian cattle 'unproductive' (even when, in 
multidimensional terms, they are highly productive) simultaneously dispense 
with European cattle for being over productive. This annihilation of livestock in 
its diversity is linked to the annihilation of knowledge of the protection and 
conservation of living resources as sources of life. This is replaced by the need to 
protect the profits of rich farmers and increase the control of agri-businesses. 
The needs of people are replaced by the needs of multinational aid and business. 

It is in order to reverse this anti-life logic that the feminine principle needs to 
be recovered. When peasant women in India resist the sale of milk, as in the hill 
areas of Garhwal, saying it is not a commodity; when they resist the shift from 
staple foods like millets and pulses to soya bean or cash crop cultivation; or 
when European women organise to move the butter and food mountains; 114 or 
peasants in Portugal's highlands refuse to kill their cows to maintain EEC market 
prices, the feminine principle is stirring towards life -conserving, life-enhancing 
perceptions and actions . 115 The recovery of the feminine principle in dairying 
involves the recovery of the integrity of the cow, and the rejection of the 
'sacredness' of a violent science. It involves the recovery of the integration of 
dairying with farming, and of rebuilding the relatedness of soils and animals. It 
involves the recovery of the diversity that such integration with nature's 
processes involves, and to place at the centre of concern in food and nutrition 
systems, the needs of the earth, the animals, the people. It means that invisible 
workers, like women and their cows, be put at the centre of an integrated and 
ecologically sound food production process. It is they who satisfy basic 
sustenance needs and maintain the integrity of ecosystems and living beings and 
constitute the only viable response to the violent forces of disruption and 
breakdown that masculinist science and development have unleashed as 
'progress'. The feminist agenda for food is the recovery of the feminine principle 
in food production so that sustainability and diversity, and patterns of equitable 
distribution are ensured. Equity rooted in diversity and in self-generated 
development is nowhere more conspicuous than in food -as are the injustice, 
violence and external patriarchal control arising from uniformity and 

As producers of sustenance, rural women have always been in the lead in 
struggles related to the right to food. During the Tebhaga uprising in Bengal, 


following the great famine, women had formed the Nari Bahini to protect their 
right to food by resisting the exploitative takeover of 50 per cent of the farm 
produce by the jotedars. The Tebhaga movement was a demand for a two-third 
share for those who produced the food, and its slogan was ‘Pran debo , dban 
debo na '(we will give up our lives, not our rice). 1 16 In the new context where the 
jotedar has been replaced by multinational and international aid agencies, and 
where exploitation involves not just robbing the peasant, but also nature, the 
productive base of the peasant, it will again be rural women who will protect the 
sources of life by protecting the sanctity of seeds, soils and cattle. The right to 
food is today inextricably linked to the right of nature to conserve her ability to 
produce food sustainably. The partnership between women and nature for a 
recovery of the organic base of sustenance is crucial for making that right a 
reality for all. 

It is in this sense that ecological movements spearheaded by rural women 
create sane alternatives not just for women, but for society as a whole. The 
struggles of the Chipko women of Garhwal to conserve an organic system of 
food production based on conserving trees, soils, water, cattle and genetic 
diversity, are struggles that challenge the gender and class-based ideologies of 
exclusion with trans-gender, declassed ideologies of inclusion. 


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77 A.H. Church, Food Grains of India, (Reprint), New Delhi: Ajay Book 
Service, 1983, P.89. 

78 A.K. Yegna Narayan Aiyer, Field Crops of India, Bangalore: Bangalore 
Press, 1982. 

79 S. Girriapa, 'Role of Ragi in Dry Area Development', sec mimeo, 1980. 

80 Hessayan, op.cit. 

81 J. H. Perkins, bisects, Experts and the Insecticide Crisis, New York: 
Plenum, 1982, p. 5. 

82 Rachel Carson, Silent Spring London: Penguin, 1983, p.42 

83 W.W. Fletcher, The Pest War, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974, p.l. 

84 De Bach, Biological Control by Natural Enemies, London: Cambridge 
University Press, 1974. 

85 R.C. Oelaf, Organic Agriculture, New Jersey: Allanheld, Osmunand Co., 
1978, p.8 1. 

86 Oelaf, op. cit., p.60. 

87 Howard, op. cit. 

88 Howard, op.cit. 

89 Howard, op.cit. 

90 F. Chabousson, 'How Pesticides Increase Pests', Ecologist, Vol. 16, No. 1, 
1986, pp. 29-36. 

91 DA, Posey, 'Indigenous Ecological Knowledge and Development of the 
Amazon', in E.F. Moran (ed.), The Dilemma of Amazonian Development, 
Boulder: Westview, 1983, p.234. 

92 Perkins, op cit. 

93 Rachel Carson, opcit., p. 108. 

94 KM. Munshi, op. cit. 

95 N. Wright, Report on the Development of the Cattle and Deary Industries in 
India, Simla, Government of India Press, 1937. 

96 Shanti George, operation Flood. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1985, 

97 Shanti George, op. cit. 

98 Shanti George, op.cit., p.30. 


99 Shand George, op. cit., p.59. 

100 Ibid, p. 11 8. 

101 Shanti George, op. cit., p.39. 

102 Ibid, P.37. 

103 Shanti George, op. cit, p. 107. 

104 Ibid, p. 108. 

105 Shanti George, opcit., p.l 12. 

106 Ibid, p. 120. 

107 Shanti George, op. cit., p. 261. 

108 'Soja Sover', Mili eudefensie, Amsterdam, 1982. 

109 'Can Soya Replace Traditional Oilseeds?' The Times of India, May 24, 

1 10 'Oilcakes Export up by 60 per cent', Indian Express, September 5, 1985. 

111 'U.S. Cows Face Penalty for Plenty, Indian Express, March 29, 1986. 

112 'Buttercup Goes on Hormones', The Economist, May 9, 1987. 

113 Kueen.'Biocow in The Ram's Horn: Newsletter of the Nutrition Policy 
Institute, Toronto, No. 40, May 1987. 

1 14 Reported by Danielle Grunberg of Women for Peace at the END 
Convention, Coventry, July 1987. 

115 Reported by Maria Lourdes at the meeting of the Committee for a Just 
World Peace, Yokohama, December 1986. 

116 Peter Custers, Women in the Tebbaga Uprising Calcutta: Noya Prokash, 


6. Women and the Vanishing Waters 

The disappearing source 

The drying up of India, like that of Africa, is a man-made rather than a natural 
disaster. The issue of water, and water scarcity, has been the most dominant one 
in the '80s as far as struggles for survival in the subcontinent are concerned. The 
manufacture of drought and desertification is an outcome of reductionist 
knowledge and modes of development which violate cycles of life in rivers, in 
the soil, in mountains. Rivers are drying up because their catchments have been 
mined, deforested or over-cultivated to generate revenue and profits. 
Groundwater is drying up because it has been over-exploited to feed cash crops. 
Village after village is being robbed of its lifeline, its sources of drinking water, 
and the number of villages facing water famine is in direct proportion to the 
number of 'schemes' implemented by government agencies to 'develop' water. 
Since women are the water providers, disappearing water sources have meant 
new burdens and new drudgery for them. Each river and spring and well drying 
up means longer walks for women for collecting water, and implies more work 
and less survival options. In Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, 
Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, most villages are 
facing new water scarcities created by maldevelopment and a reductionist 

In Uttar Pradesh, as many as 43 out of 57 districts were reeling under an 
acute drinking water famine in 1983. The crisis is clearly man-made: in the '60s, 
the number of villages with drinking water problems was 17,000 - in 1972 it 
went up to 35,000. New schemes were implemented to bring water to 34,144 of 
the villages, which should have left only 856 villages with water problems. But 
1985 saw 25,000 new villages facing acute scarcity; the schemes failed because 
water sources had dried up. 1 


The worst hit regions of U.P. are Banda, Hamirpur, Jhansi, Allahabad, 
Mirzapur, Varanasi, Ballia, Jaunpur and the hill districts. Sources of potable 
water are drying up everywhere, and because of this, handpumps and piped 
water supply schemes are becoming useless. In Banda, trains have been used to 
provide water; in Hamirpur, bullock-carts are being used, while women now 
have to walk for 15-20 miles to fetch water. 2 

In the hill districts of U.P. 2,300 out of 2,700 projects which were 
implemented for drinking water supply have failed because the sources have 
dried up. 3 How this translates into a burden for women is evident from the fact 
that no woman is willing to marry a man from Dharchula because of the water 
scarcity in Dharchula district. 4 The Chipko message that forests produce water, 
is becoming a truism as continuing deforestation is leading to increased scarcity 
of water in the hills. Madhya Pradesh, the forested heartland of India, was 
famous for water at every step. It lost 18 lakh ha. of forests from 1975 to 1982. 
Whenever afforestation has been undertaken it has made the situation worse 
because species like eucalyptus further deplete water resources. Today Madhya 
Pradesh is trapped in an irreversible depletion of water resources: most of its 
rivers, ponds, wells and springs have dried up. In 1985, an official memorandum 
to the Central government stated that all 45 districts were in the grip of an 
unprecedented crisis: 'If adequate steps to provide drinking water facilities are 
not taken immediately, it can be said without exaggeration that a large 
population will have no water to drink at all.' In towns, the water scarcity is 
leading to violence. In May 1985 hundreds of people, including policemen, were 
hurt in clashes over water in Jabalpur. Sagar is without water, because the Debus 
river which provides it with drinking water dried up for the first time in 1985. 
Water was sold for Rs. 10 a drum, and people are keeping their drinking water, 
supplied under police protection, tinder lock and key. As the Superintendent of 
Police stated, 'We had to post policemen with each water tanker and lorry 
because of frequent cases of quarrels, assaults on drivers and attempts to snatch 
water.' 5 The Malwa region, once known for its abundance of water, is today dry, 
both above and below ground. While, earlier, water was normally struck at 80 
ft., it is now difficult to find even after drilling 300 ft. below ground. As a result 
of the over-exploitation of groundwater, the number of villages whose water 
sources have dried up increases every year. Even those villages where the 
problem is supposed to have been tackled by new schemes are experiencing a 
recurrence of drinking water shortages. In 1980, out of 70,000 villages of the 


region, 36,420 reported water shortage; in 1982, this number rose to 50,000 and 
in 1985 it was 64,565. In other words, nearly all the villages of the state suffer 
from a water crisis. Commercial exploitation of forests, over-exploitation of 
ground water for commercial agriculture and inappropriate afforestation are the 
major reasons identified for the water crisis. 6 Metereologically, neither Madhya 
Pradesh nor neighbouring Orissa are arid zones. Desertification and dessication 
in these regions has been manufactured by maldevelopment. Kalahandi in Orissa 
is a glaring example: 30 years ago it was an unending stretch of lush green 
forests, rich in teak and sal which provided a livelihood to the tribal population. 
Today, 830 out of its 2,842 villages are desertified. One hundred and ninety 
villages have been deserted, with some people migrating to cities, others into 
forests where edible roots and fruits help them survive. Nowapura subdivision 
which was, until recently, densely forested is today a stretch of parched land. A 
systematic exploitation of its forest resources has left the region barren and dry. 
Each year Kalahandi faces more acute water scarcity which in turn leads to scar- 
city of food, employment and means of livelihood. The Adivasis, Harijans and 
other poor people who were supported by forest resources have started fleeing 
their parched houses. According to one estimate 40,000 people have left the 
district over the last few years to escape starvation. Those who stay behind are 
largely women and children, and they are the worst victims of scarcity 
conditions, in the summer of 1985, four children and two women died of 
starvation in Kamna block. Panasi Punji, a 35 year old shepherd woman in 
Amrapali village in Kalahandi, is an example of how women are special victims 
of desertification. Panasi's husband left her to search for work; initially, she 
supported her children and her 14 year old sister-in-law, Vanita, by working on 
people's farms. With increasing water scarcity, agricultural employment also 
came to an end. Finally, Panasi survived for a little longer by selling Vanita to a 
rich farmer who paid her Rs. 50. 7 

Gujarat's biggest problem today is drinking water. For the first time in the 
history of the state, the shortage of drinking water has assumed alarming 
proportions because most of the wells, ponds and dams have gone dry. The 
number of villages declared as 'no source'villages has been increasing with each 
passing year, inspite of an expenditure of Rs. 400 crores on drinking water 
supply schemes. At the end of the Fifth Plan, 3,844 villages had drinking water 
problems. But surprisingly, in the first year of the Seventh Plan, the number of 
no-source villages shot up to more than 6,000. In 1985, the figure went up to 


8,000 and in 1986, 12,250 villages out of a total of 18,000 were without water. In 
1985-86, potable water was being supplied to Gujarat by special trains, tankers, 
camels and bullock-carts. The government's crash programme in 1985-86 to 
provide drinking water, estimated to have cost nearly Rs. 86 crore, has left the 
problem as acute as ever. New sources have dried up, and the 4,000 tubewells 
dug have run dry. The government is now ready to spend another Rs. 93 crores 
on long distance transfer and on more tubewells. Gujarat also has a World Bank 
aided water supply project of Rs. 136 crores, but both technology inputs and 
financial inputs are failing in providing water in the face of the depletion of 
water sources themselves. 8 

The cause of the water crisis and the failure of solutions both arise from 
reductionist science and maldevelopment working against the logic of the water 
cycle, and hence violating the integrity of water flows which allows rivers, 
streams and wells to regenerate themselves. The arrogance of these anti-nature 
and antiwomen development programmes lies in their belief that they create 
water and have the power to 'augment' it. They fail to recognise that humans, like 
all living things, are participants in the water cycle and can survive sustainably 
only through that participation. Working against it, assuming one is controlling 
and augmenting water while over-exploiting or disrupting it, amounts at one 
point to a breakdown of the cycle of life. That is why in water management, it is 
imperative to think and act ecologically, to 'think like a river' and to flow with 
the nature of water. 9 All attempts that have violated the logic of the water's 
natural flow in renewing itself have ended up worsening the problem of water 
scarcity. Water circulates from seas to clouds, to land and rivers, to lakes and to 
underground streams, and ultimately returns to the oceans, generating life 
wherever it goes. It is a renewable resource by virtue of this endless cyclic flow 
between sea, air and land. Despite what engineers like to think, water cannot be 
'augmented' or 'built'. It can be diverted and redistributed and it can be wasted, 
but the availability of water on earth is united and limited by the water cycle. 
Since it is volatile, and since most of its flow is invisible, in and below the soil, it 
is rarely seen as being the element that places the strictest limits on sustainable 
use. Used within these limits, water can be available forever in all its forms and 
abundance; stretched beyond these limits, it disappears and dries up. 
Over- exploitation for a few decades or even a few years can destroy sources that 
have supported life over centuries. Violence to the water cycle is probably the 


worst but most invisible form of violence because it simultaneously threatens the 
survival of all. 

Dominant approaches to water utilisation and management are reductionist 
and fail to perceive the cyclical nature of water flows. They linearise and 
commoditise thinking about water as a resource and create an illusion of 
producing abundance while manufacturing scarcity. The submersion of 
catchments and the diversion of surface water by large dams; the depletion of 
groundwater caused by diverting river flows as well as by over-exploitation 
made possible by energised pumping and tubewells; and the overuse of water by 
surface cultivation of water intensive crops and trees are some major causes for 
the drying up of water systems. Yet the crisis mind proposes an extension of the 
disease as the cure -its solution to desertification is more dams, more tubewells, 
more water intensive cultivation on the one hand, and more technology intensive 
solutions to the drinking water crisis on the other. Nature's natural flow is further 
violated, destroying the feminine principle and sustaining power of water, and 
destroying women's knowledge and productivity in providing sustenance. 

Dams as violence to the river 

India is a riparian civilisation. The temples of ancient India have often been 
temples dedicated to rivers and their sources, and one of the best descriptions of 
the vital ecoprocesses of the water cycle is the story of the mighty river Ganga, 
roaring down the Himalayan slopes with no one to hold the Earth together in the 
face of her might. Brahma, the creator of the universe according to Indian 
mythology, was deeply concerned about the ecological problem of the descent 
of Ganga from the heavens to the Earth. He said, 

Ganga, whose waves in swarga flow 
Is daughter of the Lord of Snow 
Win Shiva, that his aid be lent 
To bold her in her mid-descent 
For earth alone will never bear 
These torrents travelled from the upper air. 10 
The above metaphor is a description of the hydrological problem associated 
with the descent of mighty rivers like the Ganga, which are fed by seasonal and 
powerful monsoonic rains. Reiger, the eminent Himalayan ecologist, describes 
the material rationality of the myth in the following words: 


in the scriptures a realisation is there that if all the waters which descend 
upon the mountain were to beat down upon the naked earth, then earth 
would never bear the torrents... in Shiva's hair we have a very well 
known physical device which breaks the force of the water coming 
down ... the vegetation of the mountains. 11 
A Chipko song by Ghanshyarn 'Shailani', inspired by a Garhwali woman, talks 
of the natural broadleaved forests of oak-rhododendron on mountain tops, 
inviting the rain and yielding water from their roots. Rivers have thus been 
perceived and used in the total integration of their relationship with rainfall, 
mountains, forests, land and sea. Natural forests in catchments have been viewed 
as the best mechanism for water control and flood control in Indian thought. 
Catchment forests of rivers and streams have therefore always been treated as 

Rapidly, however, the temples of ancient India, dedicated to the river 
goddesses, were substituted by dams, the temples of modern India, dedicated to 
capitalist farmers and industrialists, built and managed by engineers trained in 
patriarchal, western paradigms of water management. Water management has 
been transformed from the management of an integrated water cycle by those 
who participate in it, particularly women, into the exploitation of water with 
dams, reservoirs and canals by experts and technocrats in remote places, with 
masculinist minds. These engineering and technological feats are part of the 
Baconian vision of substituting sacred rivers with inert, passive water resources 
which can be managed and exploited by scientific man in the service of profit. 
The desacralisation of rivers and their sources has removed all constraints from 
the overuse and abuse of water. Projects of controlling the rivers, of damming 
and diverting them against their logic and flow to increase water availability and 
provide 'dependable' water supplies have proved to be self-defeating. The 
illusion of abundance created by dams has been created by ignoring the 
abundance provided by nature. The role of the river in recharging water sources 
throughout its course, and in its distributive role in taking water from 
high-rainfall catchments through diverse ecosystems has been ignored. When 
dams are built by submerging large areas of forested catchments, and river 
waters are diverted from the river course into canals, four types of violence are 
perpetrated on the river's water cycle: 


1. Deforestation in the catchment reduces rainfall and hence reduces 
river discharges and turns perennial flows into seasonal flows. 

2. Diversion of water from its natural course and natural irrigation zones 
to engineered 'command' areas leads to problems of water-logging and 

3. Diversion of water from its natural course prevents the river from 
recharging groundwater sources downstream. 

4. Reduced inflows of fresh water into the sea disturb the fresh water-sea 
water balance and lead to salinity ingress and sea erosion. 

Violence is not intrinsic to the use of river waters for human needs. It is a 
particular characteristic of gigantic river valley projects which work against, and 
not with, the logic of the river. These projects are based on reductionist 
assumptions which relate water use not to nature's processes but to the processes 
of revenue and profit generation. 

Impounding rivers and streams for irrigation is not in itself an example of 
modern western technology. The ancient anicuts on the Kaveri and Krishna 
rivers in South India are examples of how riparian societies in India used river 
water to increase benefits to man without violence to the river. In the indigenous 
system, water storage and distribution were based on nature's logic, and worked 
in harmony with nature's cycles. Among these non-violent irrigation systems 
was the major tank system of Mysore. Major Sankey, one of the first British 
engineers who came to Mysore observed that 'to such an extent has the principle 
of storage been followed that it would require some ingenuity to discover a site 
within this great area suitable for a new tank. While restorations are of course 
feasible, any absolutely new work of this description would, within this area, 
almost certainly be found to cut off the supply of another, lower down the same 
basin.' 12 These tank systems constructed over centuries also endured over 
centuries. Their management was based on local participation with women and 
men desilting the tank-beds and repairing the breaches during February, March 
and April. On Bhim Ekadashi day, villagers imitated the epic hero, Bhim, by 
collective desilting of field channels. Though observed as a religious festival, it 
had the effect of preventing water-logging. 13 Small tanks in the village were 
replenished by women who carried water from the river. 

The sophisticated engineering sense, built on an ecological sense that 
provided the foundation for irrigation in India, has been commented on again 
and again by famous British engineers who learnt water management from 


indigenous techniques. Major Arthur Cotton, credited as the 'founder' of modern 
irrigation programmes, wrote in 1874: 

There are multitudes of old native works in various parts of India.... 
These are noble works, and show both boldness and engineering talent. 
They have stood for hundreds of years.... When I first arrived in India, 
the contempt with which the natives justifiably spoke of us on account 
of this neglect of material improvements was very striking: they used to 
say we were a kind of civilized savages, wonderfully expert about 
fighting, but so inferior to their great men that we would not even keep 
in repair the works they had constructed, much less even imitate them in 
extending the system. 14 

The East India Company which took control of the Kaveri delta in 1799 was 
unable to check the rising river bed. Company officials struggled for a quarter 
century; finally, using indigenous technology. Cotton was able to solve the 
problem by renovating the Grand Anicut. As he wrote later: 

It was from them (the native Indians) we learnt how to secure a 
foundation in loose sand of unmeasured depth.... The Madras river 
irrigations executed by our engineers have been from the first the 
greatest financial success of any engineering works in the world, solely 
because we learnt from them.... With this lesson about foundations, we 
built bridges, weirs, aqueducts and every kind of hydraulic work. ... We 
are thus deeply indebted to the native engineers. 15 

Throughout the country, irrigation works, big and small, protected 
agriculture in the dry season. Persian wheels and counterpoise lifts, rope and 
bucket lifts and water ladders used renewable human and animal energy and 
kept water use within the limits of renewability. So adequate were these diverse 
irrigation systems that when the agriculture policy was being formulated in 
independent India, the only task considered for irrigation was restoration and 
repair of old works. 16 With independence, the project to build a modern India got 
a new impetus. Dam-building took the form of an epidemic, with large structures 
being built for flood control, irrigation and power generation. 

River valley projects are considered the usual solution to meeting the water 
needs of agriculture, for controlling floods or mitigating drought. More than 
1,554 large dams have been built in India during the past three decades. It is 
estimated that about 79 mha metre of water can be used annually from the 
surface in Indian rivers, but less than 25 mha metres is actually utilised. The 


obvious answer so far has been to provide storage capacity in large reservoirs 
behind huge and costly dams. Between 1951 and 1980, India has spent Rs. 
75,100 million on major or medium irrigation dams. Yet the return from this 
large investment has been far less than anticipated. In fact, where irrigated lands 
should yield at least five tonnes of grain per ha, in India yield has remained at 1 .7 
tonnes per ha. The annual losses from irrigation projects caused by unexpectedly 
low water availability, heavy siltation, reducing storage capacity, water-logging, 
etc., now amount to Rs. 4,270 million. The Kabini project in Karnataka is a good 
example of how water development projects can themselves become the cause 
of disruption of the hydrological cycle and destruction of water resources in the 
basin. It has a submersion area of 6,000 acres, but it entailed the clear-felling of 
30,000 acres of primeval forest in the catchments to rehabilitate displaced 
villages. As a consequence, the local rainfall fell from 60 inches to 45 inches, 
and high siltation rates have already drastically reduced the life of the project. In 
the command area, large areas of well developed coconut gardens and paddy 
fields have been laid waste through water-logging and salinity within two years 
of irrigation from the project. The story of the Kabini project is a classic case of 
how the water crisis is being created by the very projects aimed at increasing 
water availability or stabilising water flows. 17 

The damming of two of India's most sacred rivers, the Ganga and the 
Narmada, have been seriously resisted by women, peasants and tribals whose 
sacred sites will be destroyed and whose life-support systems are being 
disrupted. But the people of Narmada Valley, resisting dislocation and 
displacement from the Sardar Sarovar and Narmada Sagar dams,’ 18 or the people 
of Tehri, resisting the Tehri dam, 19 do not merely struggle to preserve their 
homeland. Their resistance is against the destruction of entire civilizations and 
ways of life in the very process of dam building which involves the large scale 
dislocation of peoples and river systems. As the women of Tehri state on the site 
where they have been protesting daily for nearly two decades, 'Tehri Dam is a 
symbol of total destruction.' (Tehri dam sampuma vinash kapratik hai), 

The reductionist mind which sees 'environment' as passive and fragmented 
has viewed the 'recovery' of ecological balance merely as a matter of creating 
plantations in the command. However the destruction of forests in the 
catchments cannot be restored by planting frees elsewhere because catchments 
are where rain falls most bountifully, and catchment forests contribute to the 
overall precipitation and its conservation. Research by the United Nations 


University has established that 75 per cent of rainfall in rainforest regions is 
contributed by the rainforest itself. Moist forests in the tropics create rain and 
conserve it for perennial discharge. Destroying the rainforest implies decreasing 
the available rainfall. Plantations somewhere else cannot recover these 
biospheric functions because they are not ecologically equivalent to the 
catchment forest - for one they are man-made plantations and not forests, for 
another, they are in the command and not in the catchments. 

Most rivers in India have been used for irrigation, over centuries. Irrigation 
systems were created like the 'round river', taking off from the river to nurture 
agriculture, and going back to the river to recharge it. Modern irrigation, 
overpowered by the masculinist trend of the large and spectacular and by the 
principle of overpowering the river, has created systems that work against 
nature's own drainage. On the one hand, this leads to a destruction of irrigated 
agriculture in the river valley and turns skilled farmers into unskilled 'refugees'. 
The Soliga, displaced from Kabini, were originally irrigated-paddy cultivators; 
today they are ignorant dryland farmers. The Soliga women complain about how 
they are now captives of pesticide firms and banks which come to give them new 
'expertise' for cash crop cultivation. The peasants uprooted by the Srisailam dam 
lost irrigated land along the Krishna and are today living in abject poverty. 20 
Probably they too, like the Santhal in Bengal, created songs about dams that 
caused their destruction: 

Which company came to my land to open a karkbana ? 

It awakened its name in the rivers and theponds 
calling itself the D VC *? 

It throws earth , dug by a machine, into the river. 

It has cut the mountain and made a bridge. 

The water runs beneath. 

Roads are coming, they are giving us electricity, 
having opened the karkhana. 

The praja all question them. 

Then ask what this name belongs to. 

When even ing falls they give paper notes as pay. 

Where will I keep these paper notes? 

They dissolve in the water. 

In every house there is a well which gives water 


for brinjal and cabbage. 

Every house is bounded by walls which make it look 
like a palace 

This Santbal tongue of ours has been destroyed in the district. 

You came and made this a bloody burning ghat, 
calling yourself the DVC . 21 

Every major new dam in modern India has displaced people from fertile river 
valleys, both upstream and downstream of the dam, and has left fertile alluvial 
soils submerged or barren. This destruction of irrigation potential is never 
accounted for in new irrigation projects. 

The new command areas created have topographies, soils, climates which 
were never intended to manage large water inputs. Water-logging and salinity 
are therefore the result. The water cycle can be destabilised by adding more 
water to an ecosystem than the natural drainage potential of that system. This 
leads to desertification through water-logging and salinisation of land. 
Desertification of this kind is also a form of water abuse rather than water use. it 
is associated with large irrigation projects and water intensive cultivation 
patterns. About 25 per cent of the irrigated land in the U.S. suffers from 
salinisation and water-logging. In India 10 mha of canal- irrigated land have 
become waterlogged and another 25 mha are threatened with salinity. Land gets 
waterlogged when the water table is within 1.5 to 2.1 metres below the ground 
surface. The water table goes up if water is added to a basin faster than it can 
drain out. Certain types of soils and topography are most vulnerable to 
waterlogging. The rich alluvial plains of Punjab and Haryana suffer seriously 
from desertification induced by the introduction of excessive irrigation water to 
make green revolution farming possible. Heavy water-logging and salinity 
threaten three southern districts of Punjab, viz., Faridkot, Ferozepur and 
Bhatinda. In Haryana, in nearly 6,80,000 hectares of land the water table is 
within a depth of three metres and in another 3,00,000 hectares it is approaching 
this level. 22 A 10-year Rs. 800 crore phased programme aided by the world 
financial institutions to save the heartland of the state from the scourge of rising 
saline groundwater has been planned by the Haryana Minor Irrigation and 
Tubewell Corporation. 23 When this cost is added to the cost of supplying 
irrigation water, water intensive cropping patterns will not emerge as more 


productive than rainfed ones, just as, in the case of desertification due to water 
depletion, the cause is mistakenly identified as drought, in the case of 
desertification due to water-logging, the cause is mistakenly identified as 
absence of adequate surface and subsurface drainage. The engineering solution 
offered by the reductionist mind is capital intensive, artificial drainage 
works - some including trenching machines which have to be imported. A 
simpler ecological solution, which recovers the productivity of soils and women 
as food producers, is a shift in cropping patterns, away from thirsty cash crops to 
water prudent staple foods so that less water is introduced into the system and 
the threat of water-logging is immediately removed. Intensive irrigation which 
requires intensive drainage works is a counterproductive strategy and results in 
the abuse of water resources. 

Black cotton soils are extra prone to water-logging, while they are highly 
productive in a sustainable manner under rainfed conditions. 24 Such soils have a 
natural advantage for being rainfed because they have a high water-holding 
capacity and are very retentive of moisture. They are considered the most fertile 
and are suited for dry cultivation. Cotton, jowar, bcijro and wheat grow 
principally with underground moisture alone. The retentive nature of the soil, 
especially when it has much depth in addition makes possible the dry cultivation 
of several crops which are ordinarily grown only under irrigation in other soils. 
It is because the natural productivity of black cotton soils is being destroyed 
through irrigation and consequent water-logging that farmers in these regions 
have been resisting the government's irrigation policy. The Mild Bachao 
Abhiyan (Save the Soil Movement) in Tawa and the Ryot Sangha resistance in 
Malaprabha Ghatprabha (Karnataka) are signals of how productive rainfed land 
has been laid waste by irrigation. Visveshwara, the 19th century scientific genius 
of Mysore, had categorically ruled out irrigation schemes for black cotton soil 
regions while building large dams for Mysore State. Yet the reductionist mind 
continues to build these and large canal networks, threatening ecological 
stability everywhere. It is predicted that the massive irrigation project in 
Rajasthan, the Indira Gandhi Canal, will render more than 30 per cent of the 15 
lakh hectares of command into waterlogged and saline wastelands. 15 

Taking water in large canals to arid regions to 'make the desert bloom' has 
been a particularly favourite masculinist project. In regions of scarce rainfall, the 
earth contains a large amount of unleached salts; pouring excessive water into 
these canals brings the salts to the surface, and also leaches them to other water 


sources. As the irrigation water evaporates, it leaves a whitish residue of salt 
behind, Finally, more water is used to flush away salt left by earlier irrigation. 
The cure to the problem of water scarcity as created by the crisis mind demands 
more water and more energy - a cure that at some point becomes even worse 
than the illness. 

The reductionist mind-set treats the river as a linear, not a circular flow, and 
is indifferent to the diversity of soils and topography. Its engineering feats 
continue to be ecological failures because it thinks against the logic of the river. 
This violence to the river is a sporadic act, ill-considered and destructive. As 
Worster points out, 'The natural river has been regarded by a succession of 
planners as an unruly dangerous beast that must be tamed and disciplined by 
modem science and its commodities.’ 26 It is this mentality that is tapped in an 
advertisement for cement which says, 'The river is furious, but the dam will hold. 
The cement is Vikram.' Yet we know that dams do not always hold. The Koyna 
and Morvi disasters are witness to the vulnerability of the 'invulnerable' projects 
of modem man, whose reductionist mind, in tearing nature apart, reduces her 
capacity to renew herself and support life. 

This engineering logic, by taking water away to where it does not belong, 
creates wet and salt-laden deserts. In addition, dams also divert water away from 
where it belongs in nature's logic, and leave entire regions with dry river beds 
and wells. The perennial river is not merely a surface flow, it also renews water 
below the ground. The diversion of rivers results in the depletion and drying up 
of groundwater. Nowhere have 1 seen this more clearly than in Maharashtra 
where the damming up of the Yarala river led to a drying up of the river 
downstream as well as the drying up of all the wells the river used to recharge. It 
was an old woman who quietly said to me, 'They do not see the huge water 
reservoir nature provides below the ground. They do not see nature's work and 
our work in distributing water. All they can see is the structures they build.' 

The masculinist mind, by wanting to tame and control every river in 
ignorance of nature's ways, is in fact sowing the seeds of large scale 
desertification and famine. The Ethiopian famine which has killed nearly one 
million people and affected eight million, is not merely related to the failure of 
rainfall, it is more closely linked with the damming of the Awash river. Before 
the construction of dams, more than 1,50,000 people were supported by 
agriculture in the Awash Valley. The building of a series of dams on the Awash 
with World Bank funds to provide water to the sugarcane, cotton and banana 


plantations of rich Ethiopians and Dutch, Italian, Israeli and British firms dried 
up the lands downstream and flooded the lands upstream, uprooting more than 
20,000 people. The Afar, the traditional pastoralists of Awash Valley, were 
pushed up the fragile slopes, which their herds turned bare in the struggle for 
survival. The 1972 drought killed 30 per cent of the Afar tribe. 

How many other rivers must have run dry, how many millions of acres of 
land in other regions been turned into desert because the reductionist vision 
failed to see the invisible flows of water when it dammed and diverted the 
rivers? How many peasants must be left with parched fields because engineers 
and planners take their water away to produce cash crops and commodities? The 
links between new capital and technology intensive irrigation works and cash 
crop farming have already been discussed. The example of emerging femicide 
trends in Tamil Nadu (discussed earlier in the section on Food) shows that the 
devaluation of the work of the river is associated with the devaluation of the 
work of women, and both arise from the commoditisation of the economy which 
forces violence on nature and women. Rivers, instead of being seen as sources of 
life, become sources of cash. In Worster's words the river ends up becoming an 
assembly line, rolling increasingly toward the goal of unlimited production. The 
irrigated factory drinks the region dry. The premium on visibility and dramatic 
impact, and ecological blindness towards the water cycle have facilitated the 
commercialisation of land and water use. 'Engineers enjoy the challenge of 
designing irrigation schemes, particularly when they are on a large scale, and 
therefore speak of water "wasted" when it runs into the sea; if it runs into the sea 
through a good dam site or a desert they become almost uncontrollable' 27 But the 
water flowing into the sea is not waste: it is a crucial link in the water cycle. With 
the link broken, the ecological balance of land and oceans, fresh water and sea 
water, also gets disrupted. Saline water starts intruding inwards, sea water starts 
swallowing the beaches and eroding the coast. Marine life is depleted, deprived 
of nutrients that rivers bring, in the lower Indus, fishing as a livelihood has come 
to an end because all the water in the lean period is extracted for irrigation. In the 
Nile Basin, the building of the Aswan High Dam has led to a disruption of 
fisheries, caused by the loss of 18,000 metric tons of Nile nutrients per year. 28 
Rivers imprisoned in dams and wasted by giant hydraulic systems are prevented 
from performing the multi- dimensional functions of maintaining the diversity 
of life throughout the basin, Dams create dead rivers, and dead rivers cannot 
support life. A song by Daya Pawar, sung by Dalit women in Maharashtra 


captures the anti-life force of the dammed river which irrigates commodity crops 
like sugarcane, while women and children thirst for drinking water. 

As I build this dam 
I bury my life. 

The dawn breaks 

There is no flour in the grinding stone. 

I collect yesterday's husk for today's meal 
The sun rises 
And my spirit sinks. 

Hiding my baby under a basket 
And biding my tears 
I go to build the dam 

The dam is ready 
It feeds their sugarcane fields 
Making the crop lush and juicy. 

But I walk miles through forests 
In search of a drop of drinking water 
I water the vegetation with drops of my sweat 
As dry leaves fall and fill my parched yard. 

Drilling deep and draining dry: the groundwater famine 

In regions where life was not sustained by a river, water was provided 
sustainably from wells and tanks and ponds. Depending on the local ecology, 
rainwater was stored, in diverse systems, in the ground and used for drinking and 
protective irrigation. Women of rural India have provided survival over 
centuries from these tanks and wells. Today, most tanks and shallow wells are 
dry because of over-exploitation; the linear mind saw groundwater as a limitless 
resource instead of as a critical part of the water cycle which depends on rainfall 
for its renewal and can be sustainably used only when utilised within the limits 
of its renewability. 

Tanks and wells made for a viable and adequate water technology, 
accessible to and controlled by all in Malwa, in Maharashtra, in 


Kolar, in Kalahandi until about a decade ago. Today all these regions are 
ravaged by famine, triggered by the mining of groundwater. Kalahandi, which 
has become India's Ethiopia, is a dead region because all its groundwater has run 
dry. As late as 1959, the composition of irrigation in the district showed that 
about 77 per cent of the area was irrigated by tanks and 23 per cent by shallow 
wells. Tanks irrigated about 40,000 hectares in 1960-61; by 1976-77 this area 
had declined to 7,481 hectares. Similarly, the area under wells declined from 
3,642 hectares to 1,681 hectares during the same period. The internal insurance 
measures against drought have thus collapsed, and modern irrigation systems 
have further increased vulnerability to rainfall failure through 
over-exploitation. 29 

The water famine in Maharashtra is also a direct result of maldevelopment, 
the three characteristics of which are evident in the Maharashtra experience of 
water scarcity. The profit motive diverts water resources from vital sustenance 
functions to commodity production and calls it development; a reductionist 
approach facilitates such diversion by creating technologies of 
over- exploitation and describing sustainable technologies as 'inefficient' and 
'primitive', and the combination of reductionism and maldevelopment violates 
the integrity of the water cycle as well as the integrity of women as water 

Traditionally, groundwater extraction in Maharashtra has come mainly from 
open dugwells. Fifty-nine per cent of the state has also been irrigated by 
groundwater through 9.39 lakhs of open dugwells. Ninety-three per cent of 
Maharashtra is made up of hard rocks consisting of the Deccan Trap. In it 
recharge is slow because the storage space for groundwater is developed through 
secondary features like joints, weathering, Assuring, and so on. All these fea- 
tures do not occur in uniform fashion, in depth or lateral extent. 30 In the Deccan 
Trap, therefore, there is nothing like a subsoil water table. Water is stored in 
joints and bedding planes and is recharged locally. This seriously limits the 
availability and recharge of groundwater, a limit which new technologies of 
water exploitation have tried to overcome by digging deeper and using more 
power for the withdrawal of water. The old methods of withdrawal through 
human energy or animal energy put limits on extraction and were therefore 
called inefficient. As an expert comments: 

There were 5.42 lakh wells in Maharashtra in 1960-61. This number 
increased to 8.16 lakh in 1980. The average increase per year during the 


last two decades was 13,700. It is significant to note that although the 
number of wells increased by about 51 per cent during the 20 years, the 
area irrigated by them has nearly doubled during the same period, of 
years. This is mainly due to the fact that more and more wells are being 
fitted with mechanised pumps (oil engines and electric pumpsets), 
discarding the outmoded device of drcift-like mhots, persian wheels, etc. 
Mechanisation of draft has increased the utility of wells and has 
resulted in optimum use of water available for each wellf ] 

However, the illusion of increasing the efficiency of wells and creating 
abundance through energised pumps has been short lived. Powerful 
water-withdrawal technologies have merely led to the over- exploitation and not 
the optimum use of water. The result is groundwater famine. 

Energisation of pumps has mushroomed after the 1972 drought when 
financial assistance from the World Bank created heavy subsidies for 
mechanised withdrawal of water. The Bank gave credit for a rapid expansion of 
tubewells to feed commercial irrigation as well as tide over the water scarcity. 
As a result, sugarcane cultivation expanded rapidly. In less than a decade, 
sugarcane fields have converted groundwater into cash, leaving people and 
staple foodcrops thirsting for water. 

The depletion of groundwater is directly linked to the expansion of 
energised tubewells to irrigate sugarcane. While sugarcane is cultivated on only 
two-three per cent of Maharashtra's irrigated land, it consumes eighty per cent of 
all the irrigation water and eight times more than other irrigated crops. This has 
necessitated the intensive use of groundwater, leading to a drying up of wells, 
shallow as well as deep. 

Maharashtra is known as the land of the Sugar Barons, where the rich 
sugarcane lobby controls politics and power. This power, it is now being 
discovered, has been built on the water resources that provided food and 
drinking water to rural Maharashtra. As the state reels under a water famine, the 
sugarcane fields and sugar mills flourish, and the drinking water crisis is 
repeatedly converted into new mechanisms for augmenting irrigation supplies. 

Maharashtra has 77 co-operative sugar factories of which 70 per cent are in 
western Maharashtra. Seventy per cent of the villages in these districts supply 
sugarcane to these factories, using ground water for irrigation. The sugar 
factories have been actively supporting their shareholders in digging and 
deepening their borewells, As a result public wells and shallow wells belonging 


to small fanners have run dry. Table I gives the distribution of villages facing 
water scarcity in western Maharashtra 32 and Table 2 the distribution of sugar 
factories in the region. 33 


Distribution of drought-stricken villages in Western Maharashtra 


No. of 

No. of villages 

No. of villages and wadis 
supplied water by tankers & 




























1589 (921 + 668) 

In the area around one sugar factory alone in Sangli district, sugarcane 
cultivation with groundwater irrigation has increased dramatically over two 
decades, even as water scarcity has growh. 34 Incomes have risen as a result of 
shifting from rainfed coarse grain production to a water-hungry cash crop. But 
the costs have been 


Distribution of co-operative sugar factories in Western Maharashtra 

District No. of No of villages in % of these villages to 

co-operative area of total number of villages 

sugar factories operation of in district 

sugar coops. 












Sangli 7 

Satara 7 

Solapur 8 











5127 430 


Area under sugarcane (well-irrigated) 







heavy. Manerajree village of Tasgaon taluk in Sangli is among those that have 
benefited financially in the short run but have lost, materially and ecologically, 
by the expansion of energised groundwater withdrawal for sugarcane 
cultivation. All solutions provided by the crisis mind are short-lived. A new 
water scheme with a potential supply of 50,000 litres was commissioned in 
November 1981 at a cost of Rs. 6.93 lakhs. The source well yield lasted for one 
year -by November 1982 it ran dry. For increasing yields three bores were taken 
near the well for 60 metres. The yield from all three, with power pumps, was 
50,000 litre/day for 1982 and all bores had gone dry by November 1983. Since 
1983 there has been a continuous tanker service. More than 2,000 privately 
owned wells in this sugarcane country have also gone dry. 35 
In the drought of 1972-73, drinking water was not a major problem, and the 
government spent only Rs. 8 crores on providing it. In 1985-86 on the other 
hand, the government spent Rs. 150 crores on emergency drinking water 
supplies and had to employ 6.54 lakh people in relief work. The Groundwater 
Survey and Development Agency of Maharashtra has found that out of 1481 
watersheds in the State, there is over- exploitation of 77 spread over 14 districts. 
The problem is extremely acute in the five districts of Ahmednagar, Sangli, 
Jalgaon, Dhule and Nasik. Abuse of water for water intensive cultivation has 


created severe drinking water and food crises. As the Chief Minister of 
Maharashtra stated at the last NDC meeting, in the Sixth Plan 17,112 villages 
were identified as facing drinking water problems; of these, 15,302 villages are 
likely to be covered by the end of this year, leaving 1,810 villages for the ensu- 
ing Seventh Five Year Plan. The rapid depletion of groundwater resources has, 
however, increased the number of problem villages with no source of drinking 
water to a staggering 23,000 villages. Forty-nine thousand tubewells dug during 
the decade 1972-83 are dry, and digging deeper, as the Manerajree experience 
has shown, is no real solution. 

Technological solutions to an ecological problem have clearly been 
unsuccessful. The basic assumption of water 'development' in a reductionist 
perspective is that nature is 'deficient' and people's traditions are 'inefficient' in 
the use of natural resources. Nature has created different ecozones which have 
been the basis of diverse cultures and economies. The arid zones have been 
sustainably used by pastoralism, and the semi-arid zones have been used for dry 
farming, with protective irrigation coming from water storage and water 
distribution designed according to nature's logic. The reductionist mind, 
however, makes intensive irrigation the model, and in trying to introduce 
uniformity in water use, destroys the diversity of ecozones and disrupts the water 
cycle. In Maharashtra, the introduction of water intensive sugarcane cultivation 
has led to a water famine. Land productivity, instead of being improved, has 
been destroyed. The Sahelian famine has similar contributing factors: 
development projects in the and sub-Saharan region assumed that digging wells 
was the best mechanism for developing pastoralism and pastoralists; in fact, they 
have undermined it. Since energised wells provide water in excess of what 
pastoralists are used to, herds are maintained in one place rather than moving 
from well to well, as traditionally. This has introduced new pressures on the 
vegetation around the well, and has accelerated the process of desertification, 
increasing the 'efficiency' of wells has also increased the vulnerability of the 
ecosystem by obviating the strategy of distributing grazing pressure, characteris- 
tic of nomadic pastoralism. 'Settling' pastoralists has worsened the problem of 
desertification by violating the limits put on water use by nature's water cycle 
and bypassing traditions that have evolved over centuries to ensure survival 
under conditions of low water availability. 36 

There is a tendency to associate rainfall failure with the groundwater famine 
and to see the lack of rain as the cause for the disappearance of water. Yet 


rainfall failure cannot lead to the disappearance of groundwater by itself because 
groundwater storages are the cumulative effect of long periods of percolation 
and recharge. For instance the deep aquifers under the Sahara are recharged at 
the rate of 4 KM3/year and their total capacity is 15,000 KM3/year. This means 
that it would take nearly 4,000 years at the present rate of recharge to fill these 
formations. Quite clearly, groundwater will not get exhausted merely because 
rains fail during one year. On the other hand, even with regular rainfall, 
groundwater depletion can take place if withdrawal exceeds annual recharge. 
The Rayalseema region of Andhra Pradesh is a good example of how 
groundwater famine, which was induced by over-exploitation through powerful 
technologies, was blamed on the failure of rainfall. The rainfall in Rayal-seema 
has been between 650-700 mm from 1945 to 1985 as shown in Table 3. 37 

Irrigation that violates essential ecological processes can itself become the 
cause for water scarcity and desertification, especially in and and semi-arid 
zones. The hydrological cycle is an essential ecological process which recycles 
and regenerates water resources. Part of the rainfall received at the surface 
infiltrates and percolates into the ground and recharges the groundwater. In and 
regions, where rainfall itself is low, percolation into the ground is even lower, 
and sustainable limits for groundwater exploitation are therefore very low. The 
water-table goes down when the fate of withdrawal of groundwater exceeds the 
rate of recharge of water 


Average annual rainfall in Rayalseema, 1945-85 


(in MM) 


( in mm ) 




















































































Note: Figures are the average of annual rainfall. Where data for one or more stations are missing, 
nd is entered above. 

through percolation. In order to assure groundwater supply on a continuous 
basis, withdrawal should be confined to the net natural recharge of the aquifer, if 
withdrawal exceeds this amount, groundwater mining takes place, and an 
aquifer drought is created even when no meteorological drought exists. 
However, ignoring this basic ecological fact, irrigation schemes in and regions 
have been expanding rapidly as a strategy for drought-proofing. In Rayalseema 
region, new borewells and pumpsets are being installed at an alarming rate. 


Number of electric pumpsets 





























increase of 

1984 over 






Source: Handbook of Statistics, Andhra Pradesh, various fiscal years (Bureau of Economics and 
Statistics, Hyderabad). 


Increasing exploitation of groundwater, beyond the limits of renewability, has 
led to a drying up of wells and tanks. As a study on Rayalseema points out, 
'Irrigation has left us with the popular perception that this drought is more severe 
and more permanent than any past drought. Climatic change is a myth brought 
on by the novelty of exponential growth in water usage. . . the falling water table 
is evidence of overuse of water, not of climatic change .' 38 With groundwater 
mining having created drought in agriculture even when drought does not exist 
metereologically in Rayalseema, demands are now being made to bring 
irrigation water to it from the Srisailam dam on the Krishna river, through the 
Telugu-Ganga Canal, and further plans are afoot to augment the Krishna river 
supplies from the Polavaram dam on the Godavari. As local water resources are 
overused and misused everywhere, an infinite regress of demands is made on 
distant regions. Desertification, which starts as a patchy phenomenon thus 
spreads everywhere under the impact of non-sustainable water use in agriculture 
which generates water scarcity. Water, a renewable resource has thus been 
transformed into a non-renewable resource by overuse and over- exploitation. 

The over- exploitation of groundwater rarely takes place for survival 
needs - it is always associated with the production of cash crops. Women as 
water providers from wells and tanks are first replaced by men switching on 
electric pumpsets to irrigate commercial crops, and are subsequently substituted 
by the government machinery which brings water in trains, tankers and 
bullock-carts. Wells and tanks which were the source of water, are now filled 
with water transported from long distances. Source and sustainer both are 
transformed into passive receivers by a shortsighted notion of productivity 
which displaces women, disrupts the water cycle, and threatens the survival base 
for society as a whole. 

Nature's work and women's work in water conservation has usually been 
ignored by the masculinist paradigm of water management which has replaced 
community control by privatisation, and water-prudent staple foodcrops by 
water-thirsty cash crops. Women have had a significant productive role in food 
cultivation based on water-conserving technologies. They have been central to 
food production, based on the sustainable use of water, in and zones. The 
maldevelopment model which sees agricultural output in terms of cash rather 
than nutritive value, has undermined the efficient production of nutritive crops 
like jowar and bajra by seeing them as 'marginal' and 'uneconomic', ignoring the 
economics of food value, of water use, and of women’s work, maldevelopment 


replaces sound and sustainable agriculture by land use that deprives people of 
food and water, and pushes women out of productive roles. Table 5 shows the 
productivity of different crops when viewed from the perspective of water 
conservation; for women, working for sustenance, maximising the production of 
nutrition while minimising water use, millets are a highly productive food 




Productivity of food crops per hectare per mm. Of water used 

Productivity ( kg/hci/mm ) 











Women's work in producing staple, water conserving food grains is only one of 
the many mechanisms for water conservation; their work in adding organic 
matter to the soil - from crops, from the cowshed, from trees and forests - also 
contributes critically towards conserving water and preventing desertification. 

While water is recognised as a central input in plant productivity, 
recognition of the fact that the soil is a massive water reservoir and that its 
capacity is dependent on vegetative cover as well as organic content (which 
determines the water retentivity of soil), is generally lacking. In and zones where 
vegetative growth both in forests as well as farms is entirely dependent on 
recharge of soil moisture by rain, an extremely important, and the only viable 
and sustaining, mechanism for water conservation is the addition of organic mat- 
ter. Organic matter or humus dramatically enhances the water retentivity of 
soils. 40 This mechanism of conserving water as soil moisture assumes critical 
importance in the tropics where rainfall is seasonal and has to be effectively 
stored in the soil to support plant growth in the and periods. Conserving soil 
moisture is thus an insurance against desertification in and climates. Adding 
organic matter increases soil moisture in situ and contributes significantly to 
increased food production. The All India Dry Farming Coordinated Project 41 has 


shown that mulch was responsible for increased food productivity in dry land 


Vertical mulching & sorghum yields/grain yield (kg/ha) 

Interval of 
vertical mulcb 

72 -73 

'73 -74 

'74 -75 

75 -76 

















Besides the technology of water conservation in soil through organic matter, 
intercropping is another safeguard against crop failure in rainfed farming. 
Evidence exists that sole-cropped sorghum fails once in eight years and 
pigeon-pea once in five, but that a sorghum-pigeon-pea intercrop, fails only once 
in 36 years. 42 

Women's work in traditional agriculture has been an effective partnership 
with nature which increases water availability for human survival without 
disrupting the water cycle. This partnership is now being substituted by a 
partnership between chemicals and masculinist science and industry instead of 
water retentivity and soil fertility being increased by organic matter produced by 
nature and processed and distributed by women and peasants, National 
Chemical Labs and Indian Organic Chemicals Limited are manufacturing a 
chemical polymer called 'Jalshakti'. 10CL has a semi-commercial plant to 
produce 200 tonnes of Jalshakti per annum, and plans to set up a 5,000 tpa 
commercial plant with an annual turnover of Rs. 40 crore. The compound costs 
Rs. 70 per kg. 43 First, organic matter was substituted by chemical fertilizers, now 
it is being substituted by chemical absorbants. The trend however is the same - a 
reductionist shift from the multifunctional 'internal resources' of agriculture 
produced and renewed freely by nature and women and peasants, to the 
introduction of single-function, external inputs, manufactured in factories and 
purchased on the market. These external inputs necessarily diminish the 
strength, vitality and usefulness of the internal resources controlled and 
reproduced by women on the farm. Women's work in conserving water is 
consequently eroded. Sometimes inappropriate afforestation strategies can 


become the cause of depletion of soil moisture and land aridisation. The large 
scale introduction of the eucalyptus in India is contributing to such land 
aridisation, first by its high water uptake and second by its insignificant contri- 
bution to humus formation. There is no scientific work done yet on the water 
relations of indigenous tree species but women's wisdom in rural India has a 
categorisation of species in terms of their water conserving properties: root 
systems, crown morphology, and physiology which are adapted to the 
hydrological conditions prevailing in the tropics. Indigenous or naturalised plant 
species therefore contribute to water conservation in a number of ways. 

Today, the two regions with the most successful afforestation programmes, 
Gujarat and Karnataka, are also the very regions experiencing total water 
famine. 44 Most movements against eucalyptus cultivation have been movements 
for water conservation. The women and peasants of the affected villages see the 
connection between water and vegetation quite clearly. For the reductionist 
minds guiding afforestation, trees produce only commercial wood, not water, 
while for women in the ecology movements, trees in drought-prone areas should 
be planted primarily to produce water. Similarly, for reductionist engineers, 
dams and canals and pipes produce water, and western trained men are water 
experts, while for the ecology movements, catchment forests, rocks and rivers 
and wells produce water, and women who participate daily in the water cycle 
and provide water to their families are the real water experts. 

Women: the water experts 

The Doon Valley in the Himalayan foothills receives about 3,000 mm of rainfall 
only over the three months of the monsoon, but its streams and springs provide 
water throughout the year. Some water has been stored in the rich humus of the 
oak forests in the higher reaches, and at lower altitudes in the mixed natural 
forests of timla ( Ficus Roxburghii), banj (Quercus incana), bhimal (Grewia 
oppositifolia), semla, dudla (Bauhinia retusa and Sapium insigne), farsu, kol, 
tun (Cedrela toona), shisham and haldu (Dalbergia si shoo and Adina 
cordifolia). But most of the water has been stored in the cracks and fissures of 
the limestone rocks in the Himalayan range. Over millenia, nature had 
transformed these cracks into a network of storage cavities, through the 
dissolving of limestone in rainwater. Nature's work had created a massive 
storage tank in the mountains which fed thousands of springs and hundreds of 


streams feeding into the mighty Ganga and Yamuna rivers, into which the 
Valley drains. 

A few decades ago, maldevelopment came to the Doon. Mountains were 
mined for chemical grade limestone, forests were uprooted, debris was thrown 
down the slopes, and nature's system of water storage was destroyed. Now, 
when the rains come, 3,000 mm of water run off the slopes immediately, 
creating floods carrying topsoil and boulders, eroding river banks and filling up 
flood plains - after that the land is parched, the streams and rivers city. In mining 
the limestone, nature's water reservoir has been mined too; the reductionist mind 
fails to see the non-commercial economic functions that minerals perform in 
their linkages with other elements of nature. 45 

Beginning September 16, 1986, rural women in the Doon Valley started a 
'Chipko' movement to blockade mining operations in the Nahi-Barkot area. 
They set up the blockade on the banks of Sinsyaru Khala, the stream which was 
the lifeline of the village and whose source had been mined for twenty years. 
When Chamundeyi came to Nahi-Kala seventeen years ago, the forests were 
rich and dense with ringed, tun, sinsyaru, gold, chir and banj.* The mine 
destroyed the forests and with them the water sources. Twelve springs in the 
vicinity of the mine have gone dry. Two years ago, the perennial waterfall, 
Mande-ka-Chhara, which originates in Patali-ka-dhar and feeds Sinsyaru Khala, 
dried up. Mining has killed the forests and streams, the sources of life in the 

Itwari Devi, the village elder who has guided the local Chipko movement, 
recalls how Sinsyaru Khala was a narrow perennial stream, full of lush sinsyaru 
bushes which provided rich fodder to cattle, especially in the summer months. 
Today it is a wide, barren bed of limestone boulders. The water-mills, the paddy 
fields, the forests on the river hanks - all have been washed away. Women like 
Itwari Devi who co-habitate with the elements, who participate in nature's 
cycles, who watch and experience nature's destruction in their everyday lives 
even while they produce sustenance with nature, have a kind and level of 
knowledge that no western trained technocrat can have access too. They show 
the world that rocks are not just minerals to be used as raw material for factories: 
they are nature's waterworks. This participation in nature is the source of a 
different kind of knowledge and power, which opposes the knowledge and 
power that is causing destruction. According to Itwari Devi: 


Shakti (strength) comes to us from these forests and grasslands; we 
watch them grow, year in and year out through their internal shakti, and 
we derive our strength from it. We watch our streams renew themselves 
and we drink their clear and sparkling water - that gives us shakti. We 
drink fresh milk, we eat ghee, we eat food from our own fields -all this 
gives us not just nutrition for the body, but a moral strength, that we are 
our own masters, we control and produce our own wealth. That is why 
'primitive', 'backward' women who do not buy their needs from the 
market but produce them themselves are leading Chipko. Our power is 
nature's power, our shakti comes from prakriti. Our power against the 
contractor comes from these inner sources, and is strengthened by his 
trying to oppress and bully us with his false power of money and 
muscle. We have offered ourselves, even at the cost of our lives, for a 
peaceful protest to close this mine, to challenge and oppose the power 
that the government represents. Each attempt to violate us has 
strengthened our integrity. They stoned us on March 20 when they 
returned from the mine. They stoned our children and hit them with iron 
rods, but they could not destroy our shakti. 

Women's knowledge and politics are the basis of the countervailing power 
of the Chipko movement in Doon Valley and other regions. On November 30, 

1986, Chamundeyi was out collecting fodder in the forest when she heard trucks 
climbing up the mountain to the limestone quarry in the area. The trucks should 
not have been there, because of the Chipko blockade in the region. The quarry 
workers had attacked the protestors, removed them from the blockade, and 
driven their trucks through. Chamundeyi threw her sickle down, raced down the 
slope, and stood in front of the trucks: she told the drivers that they could go up 
only over her dead body. After dragging her along for a distance, the trucks 
turned back. 

In late 1987, the people of Nahi-Kala are still protesting because the 
government has been dragging its feet regarding closing the mine whose lease 
had expired in 1982. People's direct action to stop the mine from working was an 
outcome of the government's failure to implement its own laws. The quarry 
contractor in the meantime tried to take the law into his hands and on March 20, 

1987, brought about 200 hired musclemen to attack the villagers. They assaulted 
the peaceful protestors with stones and iron rods. But the children, women and 
men have not withdrawn from the blockade. They are their own leaders, their 


own decision makers, their own source of strength. The myth that movements 
are created and sustained by charismatic male leaders from outside is shattered 
by the ten months of non-violent struggle in Nahi-Kala in which ordinary 
women like Itwari Devi and Chamundeyi have provided local leadership 
through extraordinary strength. Indeed, it is the invisible strength of women like 
them that is the source of the staying power of Chipko - a movement which in its 
two decades of evolution has widened from embracing trees to embracing living 
mountains and living waters. Each new phase of Chipko is created by invisible 
women. In 1977 it was Bachni Devi of Advani who created Chipko's ecological 
slogan, 'Whcit do theforests bear? Soil, water andpure air'. A decade later in 
Doon Valley, Chamundeyi inspired the Chipko poet Ghanshyam'Shailani'to 
write a new song: 

A fight for truth has begun 
At Sinsyari Khala 
A fight for rights has begun 
At Malkot Thano 
Sister, it is a fight to protect 
Our mountains and forests, 

They give us life 

Embrace the life of the living trees and streams 
Clasp them to your hearts 
Resist the digging of mountains 
That brings death to our forests and streams 
A fight for life has begun 
At Sinsyaru Khala 

Each Chipko protest has demonstrated the special ecological perceptions of 
women who work daily in the production of survival. On World Environment 
Day in 1979, hundreds of women of the Chipko movement collected in Tehri 
with empty water-pots. They were protesting against the deepening water 
scarcity but also against the failure of water supply schemes and of a model of 
science which saw metal pipes and concrete tanks as producers of water, and 
male engineers and technicians who fitted pipes and designed schemes, as 
providers of that water. When the district collector came out to hear their 
grievances, they showed him the empty pots and asked why, if paper plans and 


metal and concrete could ensure water, their pots were still empty? They said, 
'We have come to tell you that nature is the primary source of water, and we are 
the providers for our families. Unless the mountains are clothed with forests, the 
springs will not come alive. Unless the springs come alive, the taps will be dry. It 
is the live springs and not the dry taps which fill our pots, if you want to solve 
our water problems please plan for water, not for pipes.' 

That water is the source for water supply schemes seems to be a simple fact 
that escapes the reductionist mind. A recent advertisement for plastic pipes 
proudly proclaims: 'We're putting water on tap for thirsty millions,' and goes on 
to state, 'In Buldana, Maharashtra, drought set off a calamitous scarcity of 
potable water. Then, within a matter of a few days, a network of Hootalen pipes 
was laid to rush precious water to parched mouths. 'Yet pipes have failed to 
provide water to Maharashtra because water sources are drying up. Ask any rural 
woman in Maharashtra and she will tell you that it is not Polyolefins Industries 
Ltd. or Hoechst of Germany who put water on the tap, but nature. If nature's 
water cycle is maintained, and water is conserved, water pots are pumakumbhas 
even without pipes and taps, if nature's cycle has been disrupted and rivers and 
wells go dry, pipes will also run dry, as region after region with failed water 
schemes in India is teaching us, the hard way. 

The National Master Plan for India for the International Drinking Water 
Supply Decade 46 (1981-1990) has planned everything except water itself It has 
classifications of types of pipes required for the decade programme - 263,313 
krns of plastic pipes; 221,741 kms of AC pressure pipes; 150,903 kms of GI 
pipes; 113,645 kms of stoneware pipes; 58,031 kms of cast-iron spun pressure 
pipes and so on. It has an exact assessment of cement needed for water supply 
for each state, adding up to 13.4 million tonnes over the decade. It has a 
projected requirement of 1,05,415 power driven borewells and 88,254 
handpumps. It has even assessed the need for 5,415 trucks, 988 tractors, 20,540 
motorcycles, and 13,528 cars, jeeps and mini buses. Energy needs are projected 
at 2,614 megawatts of electricity, 468,240 metric tonnes of petrol, 816,534 
metric tonnes of diesel. But I have looked over and over again at the nearly 200 
pages of statistics and not found a single table that talks of how much water is 
needed during the Drinking Water Decade, or where it will be found. And with 
the source being forgotten, the providers are also forgotten. 'Manpower' needs 
are accurately projected: India will need 28,678 engineers, 111 economists, 
3,505 accountants, 563 health educators, 661 sanitary chemists and biologists, 


15,908 draughtsmen, 47,840 plant operators, 27,769 electricians, 31,235 
plumbers, 3,105 drillers, 1,405 lab technicians. Water has disappeared from the 
water plan and so have the water experts - the women who, in their capacity as 
participants in the water cycle and as providers of water, are the invisible 

As in all other cases, maldevelopment in water management is based on an 
assumption that there is no history of water management before the introduction 
of management systems run by engineers and technicians trained in western 
paradigms. It is assumed that societies are deprived of potable water until a 
masculinist 'scheme' is created to supply it. This ignores the basic fact that it is 
nature, not water supply schemes, which supplies water, and it ignores theThird 
World reality in which women, using traditional technologies, treat water and 
make it potable. As Jahan has observed: 

Water management and water treatment in the western world is a field 
dominated by men, but in tropical developing countries women were the 
actual pace-makers for traditional water purification. As far as aid 
organisations have given any thought at all to the role of women in the 
context of new water supply projects, they have only been concerned 
with the time wasted and the hardship endured in fetching water from 
distant sources. But women are not just victims of the burden of 
providing water, they have been the source of knowledge and skills for 
providing safe water, and hence better health for rural areas. 47 
... Traditional technologies are not merely atavism or ethnographic 
curiosities, but a vital parameter for public health. Unlike heavy 
chlorination, the plants used by Third World women are both medicinal 
as well as scented. They improve water quality in many ways. The 
western colonisation of the Third World destroyed these traditions. The 
use of herbs was identified as unscientific superstition. This reinforced 
an exaggerated confidence in costly modern technologies as the only 
alternative for improvement of water supply, and a mistrust and 
despising of 'old fashioned methods' of traditional water purification. 48 

Western male consultants who propose water purification technologies for 
the drinking water needs of households and small communities in the Third 
World go for the large, centralised, capital intensive, chemical based treatment 
plants for filteration and chlorination. Indigenous technologies used by Third 
World women for purified water are decentralised, low cost, and plant based. As 


engineers and engineering works replace women's and nature's work as the 
source of water supply, less people have access even to minimal drinking water. 
The exclusion of people arises partly from the effect of disruption of the water 
cycle and destruction of water resources by water resource 'development' in the 
maldevelopment paradigm. It also arises because the capital and technological 
intensity of water schemes increasingly excludes regions and people from 
participating in and deriving benefit from the projects. 

An example of new exclusion is the Technology Mission on Drinking Water 
of the Government of India, launched in response to the drinking water crisis 
across the country. While the crisis has hit most villages, the Technology 
Mission will exclude most and focus only on 50 pilot projects in 10 districts in 
10 states over the entire Seventh Plan period. The Plan, itself, thus does not 
conceive of solving the water crisis as an urgent survival need for all. The 
technologies being explored do not include safe, participatory technologies over 
which women have traditionally had control and through which all members of 
society can have access to safe water. They include high-tech engineering 
fantasies spun in the labs of the Atomic Energy Commission and the Council of 
Scientific and Industrial Research. 49 The lakhs of villages whose water sources 
have dried up recede from the horizon of the Plan. The water problem is reduced 
further to the Baconian vision of spectacular controlling and overpowering on 
the basis of experiments in the lab. In Bacon's Solomon's House, one lab had a 
number of artificial wells and fountains, made in imitation of natural sources and 
baths. Salt water could be made fresh, for 'we have also pools, of which some do 
strain fresh water out of salt'. 50 Desalination is the modern realisation of Bacon's 
fantasy in New Atlantis. It is being propagated as a solution to India's water 
famine by the Technology Mission on Drinking Water. Our scientists and 
planners are merely three decades behind America in the 'hysterical 
endorsement' of the breakthrough in water management provided by 
desalination. Gilbert White sees the preoccupation with desalination as 'an 
example of the way in which belief in a single scientific advance may run away 
with those who espouse it ... a sobering caution for those who would engage in 
environmental modification on a grand scale, a caution against promising too 
much too soon, becoming bemused with one answer, against making a public 
commitment for which there then becomes a political necessity to build support 
by continuing heavy investment in research which does not fulfil high hopes'. 51 


The fragmented and piecemeal approach characteristic of reductionism fails 
to see that new energy demands, new demands for cement and iron and steel to 
create manmade structures for the storage and flow of water, ultimately 
aggravate the water problem because they lead to increased deforestation, 
increased mining, increased water consumption by power plants and the cement 
and metallurgical industries. This masculine project becomes an endless spiral 
of new techniques which demand more water, further diminish and deplete 
water resources, and change nature's abundance into irreversible scarcity. 
Deprived of the feminine principle it fails to see that nature's water cycle is a 
perennial, endless process of desalination. Each year, the sun's energy lifts 

500.000 cubic kilometers of water, of which 86 per cent is saline water from the 
oceans. It transforms this salt water into fresh and pours it on the earth. The 
global water cycle, as a desalination process, annually distills and transfers 

38.000 cubic kilometers of water from the oceans to the land. Trees and soil, 
rocks and sand help in conserving this cyclical flow, refilling streams and rivers 
above and below the ground, recharging ponds, lakes and wells. The recovery of 
the feminine principle in water management consists of recovering the stability 
of the water cycle, and recovering the role of women and poor peasants and 
tribals as water managers for the use of water for sustenance and not for 
non-sustainable profits and growth. The recovery of the feminine principle 
involves the recognition that sustainable availability of water resources is based 
on participation in the water cycle, not on manipulation or mastery over it. The 
first step to these non-violent alternatives involves resistance to the violence 
against the water cycle perpetrated by the masculine projects of reductionist 
science and maldevelopment. 

Women and nature are first displaced in water conservation as participants 
in the water cycle and are then displaced in its process of purification and 
treatment. For centuries, nature's various products and women's knowledge of 
their properties have provided the basis for making water safe for drinking in 
every home and village of India. In both the oral and written traditions 
knowledge of these alternative methods of water treatment is still available. The 
Sushruta Sambita lists seven modes of purifying water, among which is the 
clarification of muddy water by natural coagulents such as the nuts of the nirmali 
tree (clearing-nut tree - S trychnos Potatorium). The seeds of the nirmali tree are 
used to clear muddy water by rubbing them on the insides of vessels in which it 
is stored. Seeds of honge (Pongamia glabra) are similarly used. The drumstick 


tree (Moringa oleifera) which provides a very nutritious vegetable, produces 
seeds which are also used for water purification. (This tree has travelled from 
India to Africa as a water purifier, and in Sudan, is called the clarifier tree.) 
Moringa seeds inhibit the growth of bacteria and fungi. Since the drumstick is a 
food, it does not create any risk of toxicity, as chemicals do. Other natural 
purifiers include a ml a ( Pblantbus emblica) whose wood is used to clear small 
rain-ponds in the Indian peninsula. In Kerala, wells are cleared with burnt 
coconut shells. The tuls i (ocimun sanctum) is a water purifier with anti-bacterial 
and insecticide properties. Copper or brass pots are what Indian women use to 
bring water from the source, and for storage; unlike plastic which breeds 
bacteria, they have antiseptic properties. In ayurvedic medicine, small doses of 
specially prepared copper powder are an ingredient of medicines used for 
diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid. The technologies women have used for water 
purification are based on locally available natural products and locally and 
commonly available knowledge. Women working with nature have not only 
provided alternatives to western patriarchal traditions of water management but 
also to western patriarchal traditions of health-care based on violence to the 
ecology of the human body. The honge, nirmali and drumstick trees are partners 
with women in the safe and easy cure of everyday illnesses like diarrhoea which 
can otherwise be fatal. 52 


Natural water purifiers and their use in the treatment of 
water-related diseases 


Symptom Preparation 

Acacia catechu 


Catechu (resinous extract 
from the wood) 

Moringa oleifera 



tea of pounded seeds 


pounded seeds in curdled 

Pongamia glabra 

Intestinal worms; 
parasitic skin 





Chronic diarrhoea 

Half to one seed rubbed 


into fine paste with 

buttermilk (internally) 

Eye infections, 

powdered seed 


in honey 

As Mira Shiva says: 

Diarrhoea is by far the major killer in the developing world. It has been 
estimated that annually there are over 1,400 million episodes of 
diarrhoea in children under five years of age in Africa, Asia and Latin 
America. This results in five to eighteen million childhood deaths per 
year. In other words, somewhere in the world every six seconds a child 
dies of diarrhoea. One of every ten children born in developing 
countries dies of diarrhoea before reaching the age of five. 

Yet the greater tragedy behind this fact is that all or most of these deaths are 

preventable - not by sophisticated or expensive means, but by simple and cheap 

home remedies that any woman can learn and use. 53 


1 Water Crisis Hits Most U.P. Areas', Hindustan Times, June 13, 1983. 

2 'Acute Water Crisis Grips Uttar Pradesh', Indian Express, May 19, 1984. 

3 'Serious Water Crisis in U.P. Hill Districts', Indian Express, June 15, 1984. 

4 'No Water, No Wife, Indian Express, July 6, 1984. 

5 'Sagar Crying Out For Water,' Indian Express, June 16, 1986 and 'Drought 
in M.P. Leaves Trail of Misery', Indian Express, June 19, 1985. 

6 'Alarming Fall in M.P. Water Resources', Indian Express, June 23, 1985. 

7 'A Drought-hit People,' Times of India, July 26, 1986; 'Stage-show and 
Survival Struggle,' Indian Express, June 26, 1985; 'Severe Scarcity 
Conditions in Orissa', Times of India July 3 , 1 986;'P1 ight of Women', Indian 
Express, July 28, 1986; 'Stir in Orissa over Water Shortage', Indian 
Express,. April 21, 1985. 

8 Gujarat in for Acute Water Famine', Times of India, December 20, 1986; 
'Solutions that Hold no Water', Times of India, December 8, 1986. 


9 D. Worster, 'Thinking Like a River', in W. Jackson, et cil (cds.J, Meeting the 
Expectations of the Land, San Francisco: Northpoint Press, 1984, p 57. 

10 H.C. Reiger, 'Whose Himalaya? A Study in Geopiety', in T. Singh, (ed.), 
Studies in Himalayan Ecology and Development Strategies, New Delhi: The 
English Book Store, 1980, p-2. 

1 1 Ibid 

12 B.V. Krishna Murthy, Eco-development in Southern Mysore, New Delhi: 
Dept, of Environment, p-30, 1983, p. 7. 

13 K.M. Munshi, Land Management in India, New Delhi: Ministry of 
Agriculture, 1952. 

14 N. Sengupta, 'Irrigation: Traditional vs. Modern,' Madras: Institute of 
Development Studies, 1985, p. 17. 

15 Ibid., p. 18 

16 K.M. Munshi, op.cit., p. 9. 

17 B. Prabhakar, 'Social Forestry Dissertation', Dehradun: Forest Research 
Institute, 1983. 

18 The Narmada Project,' Kalpavriksba, New Delhi, 1988; Medha Patkar, 
'Development or Destruction? A Case of Sardar Sarovar Project on the 
Narmada River, 'paper, 1987. 

19 The Tebri Dam: A Prescription for Disaster, New Delhi: INTACH, 1987. 

20 Lokayan Bulletin, Reports on Displacement by Srisailam Dam. 

21 Quoted in Shiv Viswanathan, From the Annals of a Lab. State', Lokayan 
Bulletin Vol. 3, No: 4/5, p. 39. 

*Damodar Valley Corporation. (A song sung in the Purulia District of West 


22 'The High Cost of Irrigation', Indian Express, Nov. 4, 1986. 

23 'Rising Saline Groundwater in Haryana', Economic Times, October 13, 

24 J.S. Kanwar, Rainwater Management, Hyderabad: ICRISAT, 1983. 

25 'Indira Gandhi Canal to Create More Problems', Times of India January 

26 D. Worster, op. cit., p. 34. 

27 Carruthers Clark, The Economics of Irrigation, Liverpool: English 
Language Book Society, p. 184. 


28 'The Seven Deadly Sins of Egypt's Aswan High Dam,' in E. Goldsmith & N. 
Hildyard, The Social and Environmental Effects of Large Dams, Cornwall: 
Wadebridge Ecological Centre, 1986, Vol. II p. 181. 

29 H. Purohit, R.S. Rao & P.K. Tripathi, Economic and Political Weekly, 
November 2, 1985. 

30 P.N. Jagtab, Planning Groundwater Exploration in the Deccan Trap, 
Poona: Groundwater Survey and Development Agency, 1984. 

31 V.B. Hebalkar, Irrigation by Groundwater in Maharashtra, Poona: 
Groundwater Survey and Development Agency, 1984. 

32 'The Problem in Maharashtra', Economic Times, May 17, 1987. 

33 Ibid. 

34 Note from Shetkari Sahkari Sugar Factory, Sangli, Maharashtra, 1984. 

35 Note from Environmental Engineering works in Sangli, 1984. 

36 Lloyd Timberlake, Africa in Crisis, London: Earthscan, 1985. 

37 K.W. Olsen, 'Manmade Drought in Rayalseema', Economic and Political 
Weekly, Vol. XXII, No. 11, March 14, 1987, pp. 441-443. 

38 K.W. Olsen, op. cit. 

39 S. Girriapa, Water Use Efficiency in Agriculture, New Delhi: Oxford and 
IBH, 1983. p, 49. 

40 V.A. Kovda, Land Aridisation and Drought Control, Colorado: Westview, 
1980; M.N. Peat & I.D. Teare, Crop- water Relations, New York: John 
Wiley, 1983. 

41 Venkateswarlu, cited in J. Bandyopadhyay et al, India's Environment: 
Crises and Responses, Dehradun: Natraj, 1985. 

42 J.S. Kanwar, Rainwater Management, op. cit. 

43 Jalshakti - A Boon to Farming', Aquciworld, Vol. 11, No. 8, August 1987, p. 

44 'Drying Up', India Today, July 15, 1985. 

45 J. Bandyopadhyay, et al., Doon Valley Ecosystem, Dehradun: Research 
Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy, 1984; J. 
Bandyopadhyay & Vandana Shiva, 'Chipko Comes to Doon Valley', India 
Magazine, June, 1987. 

46 National Master Plan for India for the International Water Supply Decade, 
Government of India, 1983. 


47 S.A. Jahan, 'Traditional Water Purification in Tropical Developing 
Countries', GTZ, (W Germany), 1981, p. 13. 

48 SA Jahan, op.cit ., p. 14. 

49 'CSIR Help Sought to Procure Water', Economic Times August 3, 1986; 
'Water Treatment scheme in 10 Districts,' Indian Express; August 2, 1986. 

50 Carolyn Merchant, Women, Nature and the Scientific Revolution , San 
Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980, p. 182. 

51 Quoted in RJ. Barnet, The Lean Years, London: Abacus, 1981, p. 201. 

52 S.A. Jahan op.cit. 

53 Mira Shiva, 'A Taste of Tears: Oral Rehydration Therapy in Diarrhoea', New 
Delhi: Voluntary Health Association of India, 1982, p. 1. 


7. Terra Mater: Reclaiming the Feminine Principle 

In December 1987, two prizes were awarded in Stockholm: the Nobel Prize for 
economics was given to Robert Solow Of MIT for his theory of growth based on 
the dispensability of nature. In Solow's words, 'The world can, in effect, get 
along without natural resources, so exhaustion is just an event, not a 
catastrophe.’ 1 At the same time, the Alternative Nobel Prize (the popular name 
for the Right Livelihood Award), instituted 'for vision and work contributing to 
making life more whole, healing our planet and uplifting humanity', honoured 
the women of the Chipko movement who, as leaders and activists, had put the 
life of the forests above their own and, with their actions, had stated that nature is 
indispensable to survival. 2 

The two prizes dramatically pose the two oppositional worldviews 
grappling with each other. These world-views hold opposing assumptions of the 
worth and value of different kinds of work and existence. In the world-view 
personified by the MIT Professor only that counts as knowledge which is 
produced by male western experts, and only that counts as wealth that such 
knowledge in turn produces. The economic 'growth' that the masculinist model 
of progress has sold has been the growth of money and capital based on the 
destruction of other kinds of wealth such as the wealth produced by nature and 
women. In this view, nature in itself has no value, unless controlled and 
exploited by western masculine science, and women and non-westernised 
peoples have and produce no value, because they, like nature, have no intrinsic 
intellectual or economic worth: they are the bearers of ignorance and passivity 
while western man is the bearer of knowledge and progress. 

In the world-view personified by the Chipko women, nature is Prakriti, the 
creator and source of wealth, and rural women, peasants and tribals who live in, 
and derive sustenance from nature, have a systematic and deep knowledge of 
nature's processes of reproducing wealth. Nature and women do not acquire 
value through domination by modern western man; they lose both through this 


process of subjugation. The domination of nature by western industrial culture, 
and the domination of women by western industrial man is part of the same 
process of devaluation and destruction that has been characterised in masculinist 
history as the 'enlightenment'. With the Alternative Nobel Prize, part of the 
world's community is joining the Chipko women in challenging this notion of 
progress and enlightenment. A decade after the women of Henwal Ghati came 
with lanterns during the day to show forestry experts 'the light' - that forests 
produce soil and water and not just timber and revenue - they have, been joined 
by others in challenging the enlightenment symbol of 'light' as the exclusive 
monopoly of the western expert . 3 

The categories of gendered inequality that the age of enlightenment gave 
rise to are today being challenged everywhere as the categories of a special 
project of a narrow group of western, technocratic men which excluded ah other 
groups from the production of intellectual and material wealth while including 
the excluded people's minds in sharing the myth of seeing nature's destruction 
and women's subjugation as 'progress'. The reductionist categories of modern 
western scientific thought were categories that were intrinsically violent and 
destructive to nature as a producer, and to women as knowers. In this destruction 
of material and intellectual wealth, reductionist categories in science are 
dialectically linked to reductionist categories in economics which reduce ah 
value to market value, and register only those activities and processes that are 
monetised and involve cash transactions. Reductionist economics assumes that 
only paid labour produces value. On the one hand this leads to ignoring man's 
dependance on the natural world, while on the other, it provides the ideology of 
the gender division of labour such that women's work in producing sustenance is 
treated as having no economic value even while it provides the very basis of 
survival and well-being. Since poor Third World women provide water, fodder, 
wood from the free commons that nature provides, collecting them is not 
considered work in reductionist economics. A gendered dichotomy is created 
between 'productive' and 'non-productive' work, on the basis of money and price 
as the only measure of economic worth and wealth. 

This ideological divide between 'productive' and 'unproductive' work based 
on market criteria very rapidly unfolds into the contemporary economic crises in 
which wealth is no longer linked to work, or the production of goods and 


From the production of goods and services, the dynamic edge of economic 
activity has shifted to paper transactions and speculation. Futures markets and 
speculation have begun controlling real producers and consumers such as the 
poor, and women, tribals and peasants in the Third World, dispensing with them 
if they do not 'fit' into the market transactions of artificially created prices. 
Instead of a sustainable reproduction of wealth, the global economic system, led 
by commercial capitalism, has, started to focus on instant wealth creation 
through speculation at the cost of the future - and of the poor. The decade of 
1973-1982 has seen the escalation of capital flows from transnational hanks and 
financial institutions to the Third World. This phase of borrowing is at the root 
of the contemporary Third World debt crisis. And this borrowing was induced to 
recycle the huge amounts of liquidity that the financial system of the North had 
built up and could not absorb. The Third World became an important source for 
investment at high profitability: profits of the seven biggest U.S. banks rocketed 
from 22 per cent in 1970 to 55 in 1981, and to a record 60 per cent in the 
following year. The South was caught in a debt trap, borrowing merely to pay 
interests on earlier loans. 4 

The paradoxical nature of the current global integration of the world's 
economies through the web of speculation and money-lending, is that it deals 
with mythical constructs on computers and electronic boards, and is able to 
destroy, instantly, the real economies of entire countries through numbers 
flashing in the financial nerve-centres of the world. There has been a shift from 
the factory to the financial district, but it is a shift which ties the financial 
districts intimately to the remotest and smallest farms in the world. During the 
post-war period, capitalist 'growth' came from industrial expansion; today 
wealth comes from unproductive and fictitious economic exchange. It is based 
not on exchange of industrial commodities but on servicing a paper and 
electronic money system. Real things and real people are merely inputs into 
what has become essentially a game of buying and selling fictitious goods in the 
hope of accruing large profits when the price of goods rises or falls in the future. 
Only about five per cent of commodity transactions on futures markets relate to 
actual delivery of goods. Yet this mythical game is loaded in favour of Northern 
speculators, who 'gamble not only with the wealth of nations but also with the 
lives of powerless farmers within those nations'. 5 Wealth from the South is 
transferred to the North in a new wave which colonises the land and forests of 
the Third World through commodity prices and futures markets. Entire 


countries, ecosystems and communities are vulnerable to instant collapse in this 
game of speculation, which bids on them and their produce, and then abandons 
them as waste - wastelands and wasted peoples. As Ruth Sidel has noted in her 
book. Women and Children Last , when the economies of the world, based on the 
masculinist paradigm of wealth, start to crash, ‘women and children will be 
first - not the first to be saved but the first to fall into the abyss that is poverty’. 6 

The modern creation myth that male western minds propagate is based on 
the sacrifice of nature, women and the Third World. It is not merely the 
impoverishment of these excluded sectors that is the issue in the late twentieth 
century; it is the very dispensability of nature and non-industrial, 
non-commercial cultures that is at stake. Only the price on the market counts. 
That market prices in today's world are totally divorced from real worth matters 

Consider the simple case of rice, which the Thai women call 'life', because 
as food, rice is life itself. The 1985 U.S. Farm Bill allowed the U.S. to lower 
world prices of rice from $8 per hundredweight to less than $4. Thai farmers 
who brought in 15 per cent of the foreign exchange for their country through rice 
exports were forced to lower prices and increase their volume of production to 
maintain exports to meet foreign debt obligations. New regions were opened up 
for rice production for export, displacing forests and forest tribes. 7 

Debt, the debacle in commodity prices, and speculation in the commodities 
futures markets have become a major source of 'economic growth'. In the U.S., 
interest payment on the farm debt, which rose 1000 per cent in a decade - from 
$20 billion in the'70s to $225 billion in the '80s - exceeds net farm income. In the 
South, since 1981, Third World countries have become net capital exporters: 
soaring from $7 billion in 1981 to $74 billion in 1985. This excludes the TNCs' 
profit repatriation and capital flights. If all these were added up, the flow of 
capital from South to North is about $240 billion - a sum four times greater than 
that of the Marshall Plan, which was repaid with interest to the U.S. Most of 
these funds are being emptied into speculative ventures so characteristic of the 
grand casino society. The survival of the poor and the future are being sacrificed 
to keep the casino running. Resources from the poor have become a major 
source of inflows and savings to the centre. As Cavanagh observes, 'In terms of 
scale and sheer magnitude the tribute extracted from the Indian subcontinent 
(and one of the major sources of financing the eighteenth century industrial 


revolution) by such nabobs as Warren Hastings and the British East India 
Company pales in comparison to the current outflows .’ 8 

The global economic system is quite evidently non-sustainable and 
inequitable. Its basis in indebtedness, in living at the cost of the future, cannot 
but generate crises. Black Monday, when the stock market crashed on Wall 
Street, could be just the beginning of deeper crises in international trade and 

Living high on borrowed or stolen wealth is the economic prescription of 
today's high priests in banks and financial institutions, who see natural resources 
and the poor as dispensable elements of ecosystems. The Wall Street collapse 
has shown that this prescription is not only unjust and unethical, it is also 
unworkable. America, which has provided the model of the affluent consumer 
society, can no longer work as the norm, because for the women, the workers 
and the small farmers of America, prosperity has come to an end and they, too, 
have become dispensable. The crisis of survival that the categories and concepts 
of the age of masculinist 'enlightenment' have engendered cannot be overcome 
from within those categories. When the stock market crashed on Wall Street it 
became evident that the deficit financed casino wealth of America was 
non-sustainable. As John Kenneth Galbraith observed, Reagan's favourite magic 
of the market was itself writing the last chapter of Reaganomics. Yet ah Reagan 
could say was, 'I've believed this too long to change my mind now .’ 9 

The crisis mind can offer no solutions. Those who dare to think of solutions 
are precisely those who were declared incapable of thinking. Like the women in 
the Third World, they are clear that the issue is survival, and they have the 
relevant expertise. 'Rational' man of the modern west is exposed today as a 
bundle of irrationalities, threatening the very survival of humankind. When we 
find that those who claimed to carry the light have led us into darkness and those 
who were declared to be inhabiting the dark recesses of ignorance were actually 
enlightened, it is but rational to redefine categories and meanings. Recovering 
the feminine principle as respect for life in nature and society appears to be the 
only way forward, for men as well as women, in the North as well as the South. 
The metaphors and concepts of minds deprived of the feminine principle' have 
been based on seeing nature and women as worthless and passive, and finally as 
dispensable. These ethnocentric categorisations have been universalised, and 
with their universalisation has been associated the destruction of nature and the 
subjugation of women. But this dominant mode of organising the world is today 


being challenged by the very voices it had silenced. These voices, muted through 
subjugation, are now quietly but firmly suggesting that the western male has 
produced only one culture, and that there are other ways of structuring the world. 
Women's struggles for survival through the protection of nature are redefining 
the meaning of basic categories. They are challenging the central belief of the 
dominant world-view that nature and women are worthless and waste, that they 
are obstacles to Progress and must be sacrificed. 

The two central shifts in thinking that are being induced by women's 
ecological struggles relate to economic and intellectual worth. The first relates to 
our understanding of what constitutes knowledge, and who the knowers and 
producers of intellectual value are. The second involves concepts of wealth and 
economic value and who the producers of wealth and economic value are. 
Women producing survival are showing us that nature is the very basis and 
matrix of economic life through its function in life support and livelihood, and 
the elements of nature that the dominant view has treated as 'waste' are the basis 
of sustainability and the wealth of the poor and the marginal. They are 
challenging concepts of waste, rubbish and dispensability as the modern west 
has defined them. They are showing that production of sustenance is basic to 
survival itself and cannot be deleted from 'economic calculations; if production 
of life cannot be reckoned with in money terms, then it is economic models, and 
not women's work in producing sustenance and life, that must be sacrificed. The 
intellectual heritage for ecological survival lies with those who are experts in 
survival. They have the knowledge and experience to extricate us from the 
ecological cul-de-sac that the western masculinist mind has manoeuvred us into. 
And while Third World women have privileged access to survival expertise, 
their knowledge is inclusive, not exclusive. The ecological categories with 
which they think and act can become the categories of liberation for all, for men 
as well as for women, for the west as well as the non-west, and for the human as 
well as the non-human elements of the earth. By elbowing out 'life' from being 
the central concern in organising human society, the dominant paradigm of 
knowledge has become a threat to life itself. Third World women are bringing 
the concern with living and survival back to centre stage in human history, in 
recovering the chances for the survival of all life, they are laying the foundations 
for the recovery of the feminine principle in nature and society, and through it 
the recovery of the earth as sustainer and provider. 



1 Robert Solow, quoted in Narendra Singh, 'Robert Solow's Growth 
Hickonomics', Economic ctnd Political Weekly, Vol. XXII, No. 45, Nov. 7, 

2 Press Release of the Right Livelihood Foundation, October 9, 1987, which 
states, 'The Chipko movement is the result of hundreds of decentralised and 
locally autonomous initiatives. Its leaders and activists are primarily village 
women, acting to protect their means of subsistence and their communities.' 

3 The social construction of gender and nature as gendered activity during the 
enlightenment is discussed extensively in Carol MacCormack & Marilyn 
Strathern (eds,), Nature, Culture and Gender, Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press, 1987. 

4 F.F. Clairmonte &J. Cavanagh, 'Third World Debt: The Approaching 
Holocaust', in Economic and Political Weekly, Volume XXI, No. 3 1, Aug. 
2, 1986. 

5 Jon Bennet, The Hunger Machine, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1987, p~ 131. 

6 Ruth Sidel, Women and Children Last, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 
1987, p. xv. 

7 Mark Ritchie & Kevin Ristau, Crisis by Design: A Brief Review of US. Farm 
Policy, League of Rural Voters Education Project, Minneapolis, 1987, p. 7. 

8 Clairmonte & Cavanagh, op. cit. 

9 Quoted in lance Morrow, 'Who's in Charge?' Time, November 9, 1987, p. 
20 .